Great Washington ShakeOut: What NOT to do when an earthquake strikes

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SEATTLE -- Thousands of students and faculty across the state stopped what they were doing Thursday morning to drop, cover and hold for the Great Washington Shakeout.

It's an annual drill practiced around the country, but it's especially important here at home: The region is overdue for a major earthquake.

"The last time that went off was 319 years ago ... and we know it can happen anytime between 200 and 600 years," said Maximilian Dixon, earthquake program manager for the Washington State Emergency Management Division.

In the event of an earthquake, are you doing the right thing? There are a number of misconceptions out there. The Earthquake Country Alliance looked at years of data to determine how people are injured or killed in an earthquake.

Here's what not to do:

  1. Do NOT run outside or to other rooms in your home: Exterior walls are the most dangerous place inside your home, and things like windows and architectural details are the first parts of a building to come down.
  2. Do NOT stand in a doorway: Maybe you've seen a few iconic disaster images in which the doorway is the only thing left standing. But researchers say in modern homes, doorways are no stronger than any other part of the house. If you're standing there, you're not able to protect yourself from falling or flying objects like you can under a table. Also, the door could swing around and hit you.
  3. The "triangle of life": The "triangle of life" started circulating several years ago as alternative to drop, cover and hold. It's centered around positioning yourself in a defensible space, like the void next to a wall or couch. The problem is that is focuses on full structural collapse, which is rare because of strict building codes. In reality, the greatest threat to your life isn't a wall coming down; it's flying or falling objects. That's why the American Red Cross and FEMA say NOT to do it.

What do you do if you're driving or riding in your car when "the big one" hits?

Experts say if you notice shaking, the first thing you do is put on your emergency lights, then look around for other drivers before pulling over onto the shoulder. It's important to avoid overpasses and power poles, because they can crumble easily during a quake.

Once you have safely moved to the shoulder, put on your emergency brake, hunch over, cover your head -- and wait for the shaking to stop.

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