LOS ANGELES — Millions of Californians are preparing to take part in a mass earthquake drill to simulate their response to the Big One, the long-feared major temblor expected to one day hit the US West Coast state.
At exactly 10:21 am (1701 GMT) on Thursday, October 21, millions of locals will dive to the ground, climb under desks or other cover, and hold on tight to practice the so-called "Drop, Cover, Hold On" quake response mantra.
"The Great California ShakeOut" is an annual event to keep people aware of the ever-present danger of the Big One, which seismologists warn could kill hundreds, if not thousands of people.
Some 7.8 million Californians have signed up online for Thursday's drill, the most ever, after 6.9 million took part last year. Thousands of schools, businesses and other organizations are expected to participate.
"While the potential earthquake hazards you will experience depend upon your location, everywhere in California is considered at high risk compared to the rest of the country," say the state-wide drill's organizers.
"We believe that California can become much more prepared for earthquakes -- and be ready to recover quickly," they say.
Earthquakes are regular events in California, mostly triggered by activity along the San Andreas fault which runs through much of the western state, the most populous in the United States.
Geologists say an earthquake capable of causing widespread destruction is 99 percent certain of hitting California within the next 30 years.
Studies have said that a 7.8 magnitude quake could kill 1,800 people, injure 50,000 more and damage 300,000 buildings.
A 6.7 earthquake in Los Angeles in 1994 left at least 60 people dead and did an estimated 10 billion dollars damage, while a 6.9 quake in San Francisco in 1989 claimed the lives of 67 people.
A moderate 5.4 earthquake shook southern California in July, swaying highrise buildings in Los Angeles and San Diego and rattling nerves but causing only minimal damage.
The US Geological Survey (USGS) said a 7.2 earthquake in April increased the geological pressure along the San Jacinto fault, the most active faultline in California. The USGS lists earthquakes as "strong" from 6.0 magnitude upwards.
While most locals expect the Big One to hit one day, a recent University of California in Los Angeles study found that few people were seriously prepared for how to respond.
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