TACOMA — It’s happened before and it’s going to again: A massive earthquake and tsunami will hit Washington.
But Thursday at 10:21 a.m. it was all practice when military personnel, office workers and school kids across the state did drop, cover and hold on while tsunami sirens wailed on the coast.
The Great Washington ShakeOut is an annual drill that has residents across the state prepare for earthquakes and tsunamis and what to do when they hit.
“The goal is to get people to spend a few minutes and realize, oh, yeah, Washington is earthquake country,” said Steven Friederich of the Washington State Military Department.
Statewide, 1.3 million people were registered for Thursday’s event. It’s all part of national and international efforts.
As schoolchildren were practicing to drop, cover and hold on, coastal residents were adding another layer of prep: tsunami evacuations.
“If you’re working from home, go to a dining room table and pop under that,” Friederich said of earthquakes. If a table isn’t available experts say you should still go the ground and cover your neck. Don’t run out of a building or, as school kids were taught years ago, stand in a doorway.
“The goal is to prevent debris from falling and hitting you,” Friederich said.
Thursday was also a good time to take stock of your emergency kit that would be needed following a major earthquake. Quakes come with no warning and there’s no time to head to the store to get supplies. Friederich said it’s also a good time to check on the safety of heavy furniture and other objects that can topple over in a quake.
Tsunamis are a much bigger threat on the Washington Coast. That’s why the state has provided funds to create a network of 122 tsunami warning sirens in communities up and down the coast. Twenty are still being installed. The working sirens went off around 10:21 a.m. Thursday.
There’s two kinds of tsunami threats on the coast, Friederich said. One is the kind that soon follows a major quake just off the coast. When the shaking stops, head to higher ground immediately, experts say.
But the other kind, the one the sirens would be most useful for, is a tsunami generated hundreds, maybe thousands of miles away. In those situations, coastal residents might not feel the quake but the resulting tsunami that arrives sometimes hours later could have devastating effects.