Ready for the big one?


Living on a volcanic island chain, Hawaii residents are no strangers to the many small earthquakes that rumble beneath the surface on a regular basis.

As many as 500 earthquakes were recorded by a nearby seismometer during the Kamaoa fissure eruption along Kilauea’s East Rift Zone on March 6, 2011, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

But scientists say it is only a matter of time before the state is hit by one of the much larger, more powerful earthquakes that come along much less often, but bring with them the potential to injure people and cause millions of dollars in damage. The USGS reports that the probability of the state being rocked by a magnitude-6.5 or higher earthquake is 50 percent within the next decade, 75 percent in the next 20 years, and 97 percent in the next 50.

So, we know a big one is likely to come, but what can we do about it?

This month, for the first time, Hawaii will join an international effort to prepare citizens for the impact of a large earthquake. Known as The Great Hawaii Shakeout, the informal, statewide event is an opportunity for schools, businesses and individuals to practice what to do in the event of an earthquake.

Similar to a fire drill, the Shakeout will encourage participants to take a minute or more out of their day, beginning at 10:17 a.m. on Thursday to pretend that an earthquake is happening, and to practice getting into a safe position to ride out the event.

As this is Hawaii’s first year participating, the focus will be placed squarely on a very simple, yet important, rule: “Drop, Cover, and Hold On,” said Janet Babb, an education and outreach specialist with the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

“The most important take-home message for residents of Hawaii is that the entire state of Hawaii has been impacted by large earthquakes in the past, and large earthquakes will happen again in the future,” she said. “We all need to know what to do during a large earthquake.”

When a quake strikes, people often try to run out into the street, or move under a door jamb, but such reactions could only serve to expose a person to even greater risks, she said.

“Drop to the floor before you’re thrown off balance. Get under a sturdy table or desk, and if you can’t do that, get down next to a wall without things above you to fall over,” she said.

In addition to finding a table for cover, putting your hands over your head and neck can protect you from falling debris.

“Also, hold onto that table, to keep it from shaking away. Keep it over your head,” Babb said.

Hawaii’s Shakeout is part of a larger, global effort, which has more than 16.2 million people worldwide registered to participate. For more information, or to register to participate, visit shakeout.org/hawaii.

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune-herald.com.