Deputies drill for the Big One

The Crescenta Valley Sheriff's Station went into disaster mode Thursday, if only for practice.

As part of the Great California Shakeout — with more than 7 million participants statewide, the nation's largest earthquake safety exercise — the station drilled for a magnitude-7.0 earthquake.

The exercise included a run-through of station evacuation, activation of its Emergency Operations Center and review of individual responsibilities there and in the field.

It all started at 10:21 a.m. with participants reacting to Capt. Dave Silversparre's announcement that a faux-quake had begun.

"Basically it's drop, cover and hold on," explained Sgt. Mike Brandoff of what event organizers, the Earthquake Country Alliance, advise all Californians to do in the event of a temblor.

The Earthquake Country Alliance is a group of government, public-safety and academic organizations that formed to promote quake safety in 2003 on the anniversary of the Jan. 17, 1994, Northridge Earthquake, which registered 6.7 on the Richter scale.

The first Shakeout event was held throughout Southern California in 2007 and expanded statewide in 2008, said Margaret Vinci, manager of Caltech's Office of Earthquake Programs and a longtime member of the Alliance.

The group's official "Drop, Cover and Hold On" protocol is based on the findings of search-and-rescue workers that most quake-related injuries come from falling or moving objects.

People are advised to drop to the ground to prevent losing their balance, seek cover under a desk or other sturdy object to deflect falling debris, and hold on to their cover because even heavy objects may slide around during a violent shake.

"If you're not hanging on to the object you're under, all of a sudden it may not be there protecting you anymore," Vinci said.

She and Brandoff discouraged fleeing structures during a quake, as "many people are injured from falling objects, running through glass and falling down," Brandoff said.

The Earthquake Country Alliance also refutes the controversial Triangle of Life theory, which was developed by a disaster worker overseas and promotes crouching next to objects, rather than under them.

That theory states that in the event of a total structure collapse, it might be safer to crouch next to a desk rather than under it, because if even if the desk is crushed it could still deflect a very large falling object.

But in the United States, and California in particular, "we've heard from a lot of fire department search-and-rescue teams that the people they find alive are those under something, so you need to get under something rather than next to it," Vinci said. "With our building codes, you're more in jeopardy of something falling on your head than a building falling down."

At the sheriff's station, local Disaster Communications Service volunteers also leapt into action on Thursday, firing up HAM radios to coordinate with agencies throughout Los Angeles County.

DCS radio operators receive federal emergency and sheriff's-department training to operate communications centers in the event of an emergency. They can operate five different bandwidths of countywide reach and are called to respond at a moment's notice when disaster strikes.

"We're a backup system for the sheriff's. Our job is to help relieve officers in the field so they can respond to incidents," said Mike Farrell, a 64-year-old Altadena resident who was one of four volunteers on the radio at the station.

Farrell and others coordinated fire and law-enforcement communication and helped secure evacuated homes during the 2009 Station fire in the Angeles National Forest.

The importance of practice is not lost on Farrell and his team, who were drilling up in the hills less than three weeks before the Station fire broke out.

Vinci said plans to expand the Shakeout next year include spreading the word on disaster protocol for people with special needs and encouraging families to keep food, water and an earthquake kit handy, and to develop family disaster plans.

For more information about the Great Shakeout and general earthquake safety, visit and

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