First-grade students take cover underneath their desks during the ‘Great California Shakeout’ at Santa Monica Alternative School House (SMASH) on Thursday. The fifth annual earthquake drill is intended to remind people to be prepared for a natural disaster. About 9.3 million people registered to take part in the drill statewide. (Photo by Fabian Lewkowicz)

LOS ANGELES — Millions of Americans preparing to survive an earthquake ducked under tables and covered their heads Thursday as part of the annual “Great ShakeOut” drill.

Organizers said some 14 million people, including 9.3 million in California, signed up to participate. Schoolchildren, hospital workers, elected officials and others got ready to rumble from Santa Monica to Washington, D.C.

The drill was held in some Western and southeastern states, as well as Guam, Puerto Rico and parts of Canada and Italy.

Newcomers included people in Virginia, where a magnitude 5.8 hit last year.

In Los Angeles, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and other officials ducked under a big red table set up at downtown’s Union Station to demonstrate the proper procedure of “Drop, Cover and Hold On.” Experts said it is safer to cover in place than to seek cover in a doorway or try to flee if a temblor hits.

“Hope doesn’t save lives. Preparation does,” Villaraigosa said. “Take a moment to remember: The power’s out, alarms are sounding, your phone doesn’t work, roads are inaccessible. This is a moment you have to plan for.”

Los Angeles commuter and subway trains practiced for a quake by briefly slowing to 10 to 15 mph.

In an earthquake, “the trains would be going slow enough so that they could safely stop if the tracks are out of alignment or something fell on them” such as a downed tree, said Marc Littman, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Trains would move to a safe place in the event of a large quake, he said.

“You don’t want to be hanging out on a bridge, necessarily, or be stuck in a tunnel between stations,” Littman said.

However, they would stop automatically in the event of a gigantic quake such as the dreaded Big One that scientists say will one day erupt in California.

Littman and others officials also got a shake-up in an earthquake simulator.

“My house was wrecked in the Northridge earthquake, so that was deja vu for me,” Littman said.

In Washington state, students at Twin Lakes Elementary School in Federal Way got a lesson in earthquake preparedness and practiced taking shelter under classroom tables. They also watched a demonstration on emergency responder techniques, including the use of a gurney.

Southern California has not experienced a seismic disaster since that 1994 magnitude-6.7 quake, which killed 72 people and caused $25 billion in damage to the Los Angeles region.

Southern California held the first safety drill in 2008 based on a fictional magnitude-7.8 event on the southern San Andreas Fault. The entire state participated the following year, and the exercise since has spread around the world.

“It’s not looking at earthquakes as doom and gloom,” organizer Mark Benthien said. “It’s all about what we’re going to do as a community to be prepared so that when there’s an earthquake, we’ll get back on our feet and recover.”

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