© AP Photo/Sergey Ponomarev
A Japanese worker gets on his earthmover in the area devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in the town of Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan, Friday, April 15, 2011.
A first-of-its-kind drill in the central U.S. will have millions of people simulating the shaking of "the big one." The Great Central U.S. ShakeOut is an earthquake drill that will be at 10:15 a.m. April 28 and is being organized by the Central U.S. Earthquake Consortium, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Geological Survey and dozens of partners. The ShakeOut is modeled after a similar drill that California has conducted the past three years.

Brian Blake, earthquake program coordinator with the Central U.S. Earthquake Consortium, said the earthquake drill will have 1.9 million people participating in 11 states - about 100,000 Illinoisans have pledged to participate. He said anyone can participate in the self-guided drill by taking a couple of minutes to Drop, Cover and Hold On - the recommended action to protect yourself during an earthquake. At the designated time April 28, participants practice what their reaction would be if an earthquake struck.

Blake said protecting yourself during an earthquake is as simple as dropping to the floor before the earthquake drops you, taking cover under a sturdy desk and holding on until the shaking stops.

Scientists estimate there is a 25 to 40 percent probability of a damaging earthquake occurring in our region within the next 50 years. The ShakeOut is intended to help individuals and communities in the central U.S. prepare for an earthquake by practicing how to protect themselves.

"The ShakeOut is important to teach people what to do when the ground shakes," Blake said. "We don't have a lot of earthquake reminders in this region, and we don't get a lot of practice at it. Studies show that when people are prepared for disasters and have practiced what to do, they'll do it when the time comes."

Blake said the hope is that people who participate in the ShakeOut will have an instantaneous reaction if a real earthquake occurs.

Jody Johnson, Johnson County director for the University of Illinois Extension, is organizing the drill locally. Johnson said it's not only important to know what to do during an earthquake, but to have a disaster kit prepared and a plan of action to implement.

"I think it's important that we try to prepare for the event and be able to sustain ourselves rather than relying on someone else, an agency or government to take care of us," he said. "I think what people fail to realize is the magnitude, the amount of geography that this disaster will cover."

"We're attuned to tornadoes, the derecho, flooding - some of these localized disasters - disasters where communities next door can help out," Johnson added. "This disaster's going to be so great that we can be assured that St. Louis, Memphis and even Chicago are going to receive a majority of those government services that people are going to be looking for."