Robert W. Mackay takes cover under a shopping cart inside a Target store.… (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )
Millions of Californians took part in one of the largest-ever simultaneous earthquake drills Thursday, sending students, hospital workers and even Target shoppers dropping for cover at 10:20 a.m.
The annual ShakeOut drill, which attracted 8.6 million registrants in California, was intended to train the public on what to do the moment the shaking begins — dropping, covering your head, and holding on, rather than panicking and running, which would increase the chance of tripping and injuring yourself or being struck by a falling object.
In Northridge, shoppers at a Target took cover between store aisles, and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa ducked underneath a red shopping cart. At Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, visitors in the cafeteria crouched underneath dining tables, and nursing staff in patient rooms were told to sit in a ball, their arms covering their heads and necks.
Even where people couldn't practically participate in the drill, they talked about what they would do. At the Burbank hospital, a surgery team discussed how they would handle a real shaker: each would place one arm over their heads and lean over the open incision of the patient's abdomen, said Connie Lackey, director of emergency preparedness at Providence Saint Joseph.
"You will do what you practice, and so you need to practice doing it," Lackey said, saying that practicing crouching helps train the brain to act correctly during a quake.
Target opened the doors to its store at Balboa Boulevard and Nordhoff Avenue to drill for a quake. Before the drill, employees handed shoppers a notice that the ShakeOut was coming, and at 10:20 a.m., a recording announced that the drill was underway.
Shopper Joan Giglione of Tarzana knelt underneath a cosmetics aisle.
"The information was really good about what to do when you're in a store — to get in the middle of the racks. I'm almost happy I was here," Giglione said. She particularly liked the advice that if you're in the clothing racks, it's best to stay there.
Lucy Jones, seismologist for the U.S. Geological Survey, praised the Target event for getting people to think about what they'll do if they can't easily get underneath a desk.
"The first thing to do in an earthquake, anywhere, is to drop down to the ground," Jones said, and resist the urge to run. "The shaking in a big earthquake will throw you to the ground, so get there before the earthquake will do it to you."
If you're in a store and can't get under a table, "if you're in bread aisle, you can stay there.... If you have a grocery cart, you can use that as some protection. But if you're near heavy appliances or knives, you probably want to get moving somewhere else."
Running outside is the worst possible idea, because a building's facade is often the first part to collapse and can kill those below.
The Los Angeles Times also participated in the ShakeOut, testing its emergency newsroom at its printing plant about 2 miles from the main office. The printing plant was built to hospital-style earthquake specifications, and some editors and reporters were publishing the website and the LATExtra section from the printing plant Thursday night.
"We successfully demonstrated that when the Big One hits, people — as they always do — can log in to latimes.com for up-to-the-minute news and information, and can drop four quarters in the nearest newsstand to get the most comprehensive newspaper report available during a large-scale emergency," Times Editor Russ Stanton said.
About four hours after the ShakeOut drill, a 3.9 earthquake struck under UC Berkeley. No damage was reported.
Los Angeles Times staff writer Lee Romney in San Francisco contributed to this report.