Earthquake drill set for Oct. 18 will involve entire West Coast

By Paul Suarez, Columbian web producer

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For more information or to register for the drill, visit shakeout.org/washington

Practice makes perfect.

That's why more than 300,000 Washington residents with join others up and down the West Coast at 10:18 a.m. on Oct. 18 to take part in the Great Shakeout earthquake drill.

John D. Schelling, earthquake and tsunami program manager for the Washington Emergency Division of the Washington Military Department, said the program started in Southern California in 2008. It has spread worldwide, but this will be the first year that Washington state is participating.

"For the first time you have Alaska all the way down to California participating in drop, cover and hold activities," Schelling said. People can participate anytime within two weeks before and after the date, but "the most important thing is, they just practice."

Cindy Stanley, emergency management coordinator with the Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency, agrees.

"Creating muscle memory is still very important," she said. That way, when an earthquake hits, you know to drop down and cover your head until the shaking stops.

Schelling said there are a few earthquake myths that should be dispelled. Some people say to stand in a doorway during an earthquake. Schelling said that isn't a good idea; doorways aren't always built into load-bearing walls and don't offer any protection. He also said standing in a doorway exposes someone to non-secured items -- including doors -- that will move during a quake.

There's another "spam message" on the Internet that you should get next to something rather than underneath something, Schelling said. The idea is, if the building collapses, you will be protected in the void between the ceiling and whatever you are next to. That isn't really the case in Washington where building codes have had seismic provisions since the 1950s, Schelling said.

Structure collapses aren't a concern. Other things are.

Historically, falling debris usually cause injuries during earthquakes, not falling buildings, CRESA's Cindy Stanley said.

Getting a designated out-of-area contact and family plan for how to reunite is also important.

Long-distance help

During earthquakes, phone lines go down or get jammed because everyone is trying to dial, Schelling said. It can be next to impossible to connect with other people in the same area -- but calling long-distance is usually easier. An out-of-state contact can relay information to others in your area, he said.

Brenda Palmer of Vancouver said she and her two adult children have a designated out-of-area contact. She's been through two "good sized" earthquakes in the past and thought it would be nice to practice what to do when an earthquake comes. She said depending on the size of the earthquake, she might wait it out in her house (built in 1931) or run outside into a large open area where buildings, power lines and other things won't fall on her.

She said she signed up for the drill because she's "real interested in being prepared."

Paul Suarez: 360-735-4522; http://twitter.com/col_cops;paul.suarez@columbian.com.