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'Big One' May Not Strike Inland, But Schools Practice For Quake

Ryan Lancaster
Spokane Public Schools
Kindergartener Jesse Clark practices getting under his desk during an earthquake drill at Finch Elementary in Spokane.

An estimated 1.2 million people in the Northwest took part in an international earthquake drill Thursday.

For communities west of the Cascades, the next big quake is considered a matter of when, not if. But people also participated in other corners of the Northwest where earthquakes occur very infrequently.

The biggest participation in the coordinated Great ShakeOut drill was in classrooms around the West.

Right on schedule, a message came over the loudspeaker in Ms. Lalley's fourth grade class at Finch Elementary School in Spokane.

After a moment of confusion, students scrambled under their desks.

This is the first time the school has participated in the drill. Nine-year-old Ella Rettele says earthquakes seem pretty scary.

“They could cause a lot of stuff happen, like a building could break down and a tsunami could come,” she says.

While it's safe to say a tsunami wouldn't make it this far inland, Bill Phillips of the Idaho Geological Survey says areas east of the Cascades could feel the effects of major rupture of the offshore Cascadia fault.

“We actually might have a little bit of damage over here, all those hundreds of miles away, if a very large Cascadia earthquake occurred," he says. "We're talking about magnitude 8-plus or so.”

Phillips says old fault lines underlie many areas east of the Cascades. Since the 1930s, Walla Walla, Klamath Falls, and central Idaho have been rocked by earthquakes between 6 and 7.3 in magnitude.

On the Web:

Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drills - Southern California Earthquake Center 
Pacific Northwest Seismic Network - official site 
How to protect yourself during an earthquake - Earthquake Country Alliance 
Handbook for Earthquakes in Idaho - Idaho Geological Survey