10/17/2013 05:33 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Great B.C. Shakeout: Thousands Participate In Province-Wide Earthquake Drill

VICTORIA - The loud rumblings of a mock earthquake screeched over the public address system at the British Columbia legislature Thursday, signalling the start of a provincewide earthquake drill that included massive rehearsals of the potentially lifesaving drop, cover and hold manoeuvres.

Sirens followed and government workers joined hundreds of thousands of British Columbians, including school children, who all hid under their desks and then evacuated their buildings to safety.

But while the mock earthquake drill was setting off alarm bells across the province, it was eerily quite at Natural Resources Canada near Victoria where seismologists measure earthquake activity.

"I can't see any earthquakes," said seismologist Alison Bird, who checked the graphs and found nothing had registered. "It was little bit boring around that time, I'm sorry."

But she said B.C. has been rattled recently by tiny aftershocks from a quake off Haida Gwaii last month.

While those quakes register on equipment, they are seldom felt by the public.

B.C. Justice Minister Suzanne Anton said up to 690,000 British Columbians participated in the Great British Columbia ShakeOut, which saw many people crawl under their desks during the mock earthquake drill.

Anton said the drop, cover and hold moves are critical first steps in the event of a real earthquake, but so are practising home, school and business escape routes and preparing earthquake kits to keep survivors comfortable until help arrives.

"I urge every person living in coastal British Columbia to recognize the significant risk of an earthquake and to practice, plan and prepare," said Anton in a statement. "Practice what to do when an earthquake hits with the 'drop, cover and hold on' drill. Make an emergency plan for your family members so everyone knows what to do. And prepare to be able to survive on your own for at least 72 hours."

Coastal British Columbia is located in an active earthquake zone where minor rumblings are regular occurrences, but major quakes are also a threat. Three hundred years ago a major quake off the Alaska coast created a tsunami that wiped out aboriginal villages and eventually hit Japan.

The B.C. ShakeOut drill coincided with similar events in the Western United States, Japan and Italy where millions practised their drop, cover and hold skills.

In California, the most earthquake-prone region in the United States, 9.5 million people signed up to participate in the drill.

It was estimated that 15 million people worldwide participated in the earthquake rehearsal.

The Great ShakeOut was first held in California in 2008.

Last month, 13,000 people in Quebec's Charlevoix region — located on the north shore of the Saint Lawrence River — held their own ShakeOut drill.

In recent weeks, powerful quakes have hit worldwide, including a magnitude-7.1 jolt that killed more than 100 people in the Philippines and damaged historic churches.

Since 2001, the B.C. government has spent or committed to spend more than $2.2 billion to seismically upgrade or replace 214 schools considered high-risk from an earthquake.

Other studies conclude the B.C. legislature building will topple in the event of an earthquake.

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