LOS ANGELES -- Hoping to survive an earthquake, many Californians and people in earthquake prone regions around the world were gearing up for a major earthquake drill.
More than 24 million people, including 9 1/2 million in California, have signed up to duck under their desks at 10:17 a.m. local time Thursday, cover their heads and hold on to something sturdy.
The exercise allows first responders to dust off their emergency response plans and transportation departments to practice slowing down trains in the event of real shaking.
The Great ShakeOut was first held in California in 2008 and participation has since spread around the globe. This year, Japan, Canada, Italy and Guam planned to join the U.S. in the drill.
"Everyone everywhere should know how to protect themselves during an earthquake," lead organizer Mark Benthien said.
Participation has exceeded last year's level despite a government shutdown that prevented the Federal Emergency Management Agency from doing last-minute promotion of the drill on social media sites, Benthien said.
Southern California has not experienced a devastating quake since the 1994 Northridge disaster that killed 60 people and injured more than 7,000.
In recent weeks, parts of the world have been rattled by powerful quakes, including a magnitude-7.1 jolt that killed more than 100 people in the Philippines and damaged historic churches.
Drill organizers said this year's focus is on fires that may be sparked by ruptured utility lines after a quake.
In Los Angeles, firefighters will practice evacuating students pretending to be injured or trapped by falling debris. They will also put out a fake fire that erupts in a classroom at an elementary school in the Echo Park neighborhood.
Several countries, including Japan and Mexico, have an alert system that gives a few precious seconds of warning to residents after a large quake. Last month, California Gov. Jerry Brown approved a law directing state emergency officials to find ways to fund a statewide quake early warning system by 2016.