On Oct. 17 at 10:17 a.m., drop to the ground, take cover under a sturdy desk or table and then hold on for at least 60 seconds. 

That’s what Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Region X and Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington State officials are asking people to do as part of the 2013 Great ShakeOut — an international drill meant to help people prepare for a major earthquake. 

“The ShakeOut is an exercise that we start practicing in grade school and never outgrow,” Kenneth D. Murphy, FEMA Region X administrator, said in a news release. “Earthquakes cannot be predicted and can occur anywhere at any time, which is why it is important to know what to do when one occurs.”

When an earthquake does hit, FEMA Region X officials say the best option is to get to the floor and take cover, but if that’s not possible, people should go to an inside corner of the room, clear of windows and items that could fall on them. 

“People who use wheelchairs or other mobility devices should lock their wheels and remain seated until the shaking stops. Protect your head and neck with your arms, a pillow, a book or whatever is available,” according to the news release.

Those who want to participate in the drill are encouraged to register online at www.shakeout.org to receive details about the event and learn how to participate. 

The Great ShakeOut is a timely drill as the announcement of the event comes just days after earthquakes were reported in Yellowstone National Park and western Wyoming. 

David Pearson, assistant professor for Idaho State University’s Department of Geosciences, said most of the recent seismic activity occurred within the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park, specifically at the northern end of Lewis Lake, within Lower Geyser Basin, and west of Norris Geyser Basin.

“Seismic activity was greatest between September 10 and September 15,” he said. “Each of these regions was associated with an earthquake swarm, which is a sequence of earthquakes near the same area without an obvious main shock.”

The recent swarms produced roughly four quakes that were large enough to feel.

The first, a magnitude 3.5, struck Sept. 13 northeast of West Yellowstone, Mont. Then, in the early hours Sept. 15, two quakes, a magnitude 3.2 and magnitude 3.4, were detected in quick succession at 5:10 and 5:11 a.m., southeast of West Yellowstone. The magnitude 3.6 that marked the peak of the swarm struck north of the Old Faithful Geyser about 4 1/2 hours later.

“They weren’t big earthquakes, but they were felt,” said Bob Smith, a University of Utah geophysics professor who has been monitoring seismic activity in and around the Yellowstone Caldera for 53 years. 

About half a dozen earthquakes are felt in Yellowstone in an average year, he said.

“This is pretty unusual, to be honest,” Smith said.

Still, Pearson was more intrigued by the Sept. 21 earthquake that took place outside of Yellowstone National Park, in an area west of Fort Washakie, Wyo., beneath the northeastern side of the Wind River Range. That earthquake had a magnitude of 4.9 — 20 times larger in magnitude (and it released about 80 times more energy) than the magnitude 3.6 quake in Yellowstone last week, he said. 

“Whereas most of the earthquakes within Yellowstone occurred at depths of less than 10 km (6 miles), this earthquake occurred at a depth of about 74 km (46 miles), which is within the earth’s mantle and at an unusual depth for the area,” Pearson said. 

Although he hasn’t seen anything that he would consider to be concerning at this point, the recent seismic activity does give people cause to think about what they would do in an earthquake. 

FEMA Region X officials say people can prepare for such an incident by participating in the Great ShakeOut drill or visiting www.ready.gov/earthquakes

California is taking its earthquake preparation one step further. 

Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday ordered the creation of a statewide earthquake early warning system that could give millions of Californians a few precious seconds of warning before a powerful temblor strikes.

The bill signed into law Tuesday directs the Office of Emergency Services to develop the system and identify sources of funding for it by January 2016. The system is expected to cost about $80 million to build and run for five years. 

Although they can’t predict seismic activity, early warning systems are designed to detect the first, fast-moving shock wave from a large earthquake, calculate the strength and alert people before the slower but damaging waves spread. 


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