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Great California ShakeOut: Convincing people to prepare for an earthquake

4th graders participate in an earthquake drill with LAFD Captain Steven Owens. Will you be participating in this year's
4th graders participate in an earthquake drill with LAFD Captain Steven Owens. Will you be participating in this year's "Great ShakeOut"?
David Livingston/Getty Images

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When the “big one” hits, will you be ready? That’s the question behind an event called the “Great California ShakeOut.” It’s a statewide earthquake drill happening Thursday at 10:20 a.m.

State and local officials hope it inspires Californians to take steps towards preparation, like strapping down heavy appliances. But a recent survey found that less than a third of Californians have taken important precautions to stay earthquake-safe.

Dennis Mileti, sociologist specializing in disaster response, said that human beings tend to worry about the immediate future. Experiencing an earthquake is the most effective way to get people to act on safety recommendations.

“In fact, we have observed that preparedness supplies for an earthquake skyrocket after an earthquake has happened,” he said.

U.S. Geological Survey scientist Lucy Jones has studied fault lines for 30 years, but can’t pinpoint whether a major earthquake will hit soon, or decades from now. The “big one” will come in the form of a magnitude 8 quake. No one can say when, and Jones may be in the minority of people ready to ride it out.

Jones made every detail in her office earthquake-proof, and knows the exact spot under her desk she’ll dive to in the event of a quake.

“The filing cabinets are hooked to the wall, and I actually have used putty to hook my glass awards onto the top so they won’t topple over in an earthquake. I wouldn’t want to see them broken,” she said.

Sociologist Dennis Mileti said that using photos and statistics of the post-quake damage as a scare tactic doesn’t convince people to change their behavior. Instead, he said matter-of-fact messages, and persistence, are more effective.

Chris Nance of the California Emergency Management Association (Cal EMA) said that tomorrow’s “Great ShakeOut” is only a small part of their campaign. Cal EMA has released a series of videos to give a “kind of tongue-in-cheek look at reasons for why people are totally unprepared,” he said.

Great California ShakeOut Information

When: Thursday, Oct. 20, 2011, 10:20a.m.
For details visit