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LOS ANGELES (AP) — People dove under desks and tables Thursday in earthquake-prone California and elsewhere to practice the “drop, cover, and hold” response that could save their lives if shaking brings their surroundings crashing down.

More than 22 million people worldwide — nearly half of them in California — were expected to participate in so-called ShakeOut drills at 10:15 a.m. local time, according to the Southern California Earthquake Center at the University of Southern California.

In Los Angeles, where the threat of a destructive temblor is ever present, Mayor Eric Garcetti joined in during a broadcast on radio station KNX. “Things that are falling will kill you,” Garcetti said in urging people to join the drill.

Schools and universities account for most of the participants in the disaster exercise, organized in California by the Earthquake Country Alliance, that has spread well beyond the state to other parts of the U.S. and other nations including Canada and New Zealand.

In Washington state, U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell participated Thursday in a Great Washington ShakeOut drill in Oso, the site of a deadly landslide last year.

For many, the exercise just consists of dropping and covering under desks as generations of California schoolchildren have done. But the Shakeout is designed to simulate more coordinated and widespread action.

On some school campuses, students act out roles as earthquake victims, as health care professionals assess and treat them, setting up a triage area and assigning them different levels of injuries.

Organizers have carried out similar exercises at train stations and hospitals.

California has small earthquakes daily, such as a cluster occurring this week under cities east of San Francisco. The drill, however, seeks to prepare citizens for the sort of devastating quake the state hasn’t seen in decades.

The last was the 1994 Northridge disaster that killed 60 people and injured more than 7,000 in metropolitan Los Angeles.

In 1989, the magnitude-6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake in the San Francisco Bay region killed 63 people, injured nearly 3,800 and caused up to $10 billion in damage.

When the first ShakeOut drill was planned in 2008, organizers based it on a scenario of a magnitude-7.8 earthquake on the southern section of California’s mighty San Andreas Fault. It’s the type of quake that experts say will happen although they can’t say when. An earthquake of that size would cause shaking for nearly two minutes.

Experts said such a quake would inflict vastly more damage than the Northridge quake and cause more than 1,800 deaths and 50,000 injuries.

Drill organizers include the Southern California Earthquake Center, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and California’s Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, among others.