LOS ANGELES -- LOS ANGELES (AP) — 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 ½ 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.

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  • Motorists cross a damaged road destroyed at the height of the powerful earthquake in Guihulngan town, Negros Oriental province, central Philippines on February 9, 2012. Survivors of a deadly quake in the Philippines begged rescuers February 8 to keep searching for dozens of people buried in landslides, but officials said hopes of finding them alive were dim. TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images

  • Aerial view of wrecked cars litter the connector ramp from Interstate 5 to Highway 14 following the Northridge earthquake, on January 17, 1994, in Northridge, California. During the Northridge earthquake, damage was widespread, sections of major freeways collapsed, parking structures and office buildings collapsed, and numerous apartment buildings suffered irreparable damage. CARLOS SCHIEBECK/AFP/GettyImages

  • The path of a massive landslide triggered by the 13 January earthquake shows the devastation 16 January 2001, at the suburb of Santa Tecla, in San Salvador 16 January 2001, as rescue workers continue to search for victims. According to reports, nearly 666 are reported dead and another 2,000 missing since 13 January's quake rocked the area. JORGE UZON/AFP/Getty Images

  • A mirror is seen in a house damaged during an earthquake November 27, 2005 in suburban Jiujiang of Jiangxi Province, east China. A strong earthquake of magnitude 5.7 rattled parts of central China on November 26, killing at least 16 people, injuring more than 8,000, 20 of them in critical condition, and destroyed approximately 18,000 homes, according to state media. (Photo by China Photos/Getty Images)

  • A young boy jumps over cracks in the ground beside a destroyed farmhouse, near the town of Ruichang 27 November 2005, after it collapsed during the 5.7 earthquake 26 November in Jiangxi Province. Rescue teams rushed to the popular tourist spot in eastern China after the powerful earthquake left thousands of homes flattened and at least 13 people in the region dead, officials said. Seven teams had been dispatched to the worst-hit areas to bring food, water, and tents to the thousands of people caught up in the earthquake, said Cao Junliang, an aid spokesman from the tourist city of Jiujiang. MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images

  • A man sits on top of what used to be his home while watching bulldozers clear the ruins of Old Anjar, a village 40 kilometers from Bhuj, India February 6, 2001 following an earthquake that struck Gujarat state on January 26 and has taken the lives of an estimated 30,000 people. As rescuers continue to search for victims, local authorities have shifted their attention to caring for the homeless and preventing looting. (Photo by Paula Bronstein for UNICEF/Liaison)

  • People transport the coffin of a family member 14 February 2001 killed during the earthquake that hit Verapaz, El Salvador, some 70 kms (45 miles) east of San Salvador. The 6.1 magnitude earthquake struck 13 February leaving some 260 dead and more than 2,260 wounded. YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images

  • The damaged clock tower of Finale Emilia, Italy, Sunday, May 20, 2012. A magnitude 6 earthquake shook northern Italy early Sunday, killing at least four people. The quake struck at 4:04 a.m. Sunday between Modena and Mantova, about 35 kilometers (22 miles) north of Bologna at a relatively shallow depth of 10 kilometers (6 miles), the U.S. Geological Survey said. (AP Photo/Gianfilippo Oggioni, Lapresse)

  • Iranians sit waiting in the ruins of the devastated southeastern Iranian city of Bam, 31 December 2003 after an earthquake measuring 6.3 on the open-ended Richter scale hit the city 26 December 2003. Some 40,000 people were killed in the temblor. MARTIN BUREAU/AFP/Getty Images

  • Philippine military personnel along with civilian vilunteers carry relief goods as they cross a damaged road destroyed at the height of the powerful earthquake in Guihulngan town, Negros Oriental province, central Philippines on February 9, 2012. Survivors of a deadly quake in the Philippines begged rescuers February 8 to keep searching for dozens of people buried in landslides, but officials said hopes of finding them alive were dim. TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images

  • Residents sit inside their chapel looking at a collapsed altar wall after a 7.6 magnitude earthquake on August 31 hit the town of Basey, western Samar province, in the central Philippines on September 2, 2012. Families returned to their quake-devastated homes in the central Philippines on September 2, ignoring government warnings to relocate away from danger zones. TED ALJIBE/AFP/GettyImages

  • A man tries to clear some rubble at the site of his home March 28, 2002 in the northern town of Nahrin. A powerful earthquake destroyed his home March 25, 2002 and injured many locals and left many others homeless. Aid agencies and others rushed relief supplies to tens of thousands of homeless Afghans after the devastating earthquake. Officials announced that the death toll was in the hundreds, not the thousands, as originally feared. The 6.1-magnitude quake struck nearly 80 villages in a mountainous region nine miles in radius, leaving 100,000 people homeless or cut off from food supplies. (Photo Natalie Behring-Chisholm/Getty Images)

  • A man looks at collapsed building after a new second quake aftershock measuring 5.8 points on the Richter scale hit Zemmouri, 60 km east of Algiers, 28 May 2003, following the 21 May deadly earthquake that killed at least 2,200 people. Radio stations broadcast appeals from experts calling on people not to panic but also warning them to expect further aftershocks. HOCINE ZAOURAR/AFP/Getty Images

  • Officials of the Banda Aceh prison next to the wall of the prison in Banda Aceh on April 12, 2012 after it collapsed following powerful eartquakes that hit the west coast of Indonesia on April 11, 2012. Giant quakes off Indonesia caused panic but little damage, in a succesful test of warning systems and evacuation plans introduced after the catastrophic 2004 Asian tsunami, experts said. ADEK BERRY/AFP/Getty Images

  • Children affected by the recent powerful earthquake walk past their temporary shelter with writings on the roof, asking fro help, at a school grounds in Guihulngan town, Negros Oriental province, central Philippines on February 9, 2012. Survivors of a deadly quake in the Philippines begged rescuers February 8 to keep searching for dozens of people buried in landslides, but officials said hopes of finding them alive were dim. TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images

  • An Iranian resident from the village of Baje-Baj, near the town of Varzaqan, stands on top of the rubble of his destroyed home on August 12, 2012, as rescue workers search for survivors, after twin earthquakes hit northwestern Iran on August 11. Iran wrapped up rescue operations in hundreds of villages flattened by twin earthquakes the day before in its northwest, as officials gave a new toll of 227 dead and 1,380 injured in the disaster. ATTA KENARE/AFP/GettyImages

  • A motorbike lays under rubble after an earthquake in the village of Shaj, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) outside the city of Birjand, eastern Iran, Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012. A moderate earthquake shook eastern Iran Wednesday, killing five people and injuring several others, Iranian TV reported. (AP Photo/Mehr News Agency, Mojtaba Gorgi)

  • TURKEY EARTHQUAKE

  • MEXICO QUAKE

  • A resident starts fixing his damaged house two days after a 7.6 magnitude earthquake hit their town in General Macarthur, eastern Samar province, in the central Philippines on September 2, 2012. Families returned to their quake-devastated homes in the central Philippines on September 2, ignoring government warnings to relocate away from danger zones. TED ALJIBE/AFP/GettyImages

  • King Mohammed VI (R) visits 29 February 2004 with General Abdelkrime Yakoubi (L) the small town of Imzouren, badly hit by the 24 February 2004 quake, which measured 6.3 on the Richter scale and killed at least 572 people in the mountainous northeast. The king arrived for his third visit to the area since taking over from his late father, Hassan II, in 1999. ABDELHAK SENNA/AFP/Getty Images

  • One of the large cracks on the Tok Cutoff Highway, caused by an 7.9 magnitude earthquake on November 3 that rocked a sparsely populated area of interior Alaska, is seen November 4, 2002 near Mentasta, Alaska. The earthquake, one of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded in the United States, knocked out some of the pipelines supports forcing the flow of oil to be shut down. (Photo by Alaska Department of Transportation/Getty Images)

  • Cars lie smashed by the collapsed Interstate 5 connector few hours after Northridge earthquake, on January 17, 1994, in Sylmar, California. Federal officials are still trying to measure the amount of damage from the earthquake and said freeways suffered at least $100 million in damage. The Northridge earthquake occurred on January 17, 1994 at 4:31 AM Pacific Standard Time in Reseda, a neighborhood in the city of Los Angeles, California. (Photo credit should read JONATHAN NOUROK/AFP/GettyImages)

  • Acehnese tsunami survivors take in the view at Ulhe Lheue beach, a densely populated area before the tsunami, December 26, 2005 in Banda Aceh, Indonesia. The December 26, 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which struck after an undersea earthquake, killed over 200,000 people, including at least 130,000 in Indonesia's Aceh province. (Photo by Dimas Ardian/Getty Images)

  • Earthquake Kills At Least 50 People in Peru

    391303 01: A local family cleans up after their property was destroyed by an earthquake that killed at least 50 people June 25, 2001 near Lima, Peru. (Photo by Getty Images)

  • CHINA EARTHQUAKE

  • Villagers walk past the collapsed wall of a farmhouse, where an eight year old girl as killed during 26 November's 5.7 earthquake in Ruichang, Jiangxi Province, 28 November 2005. At least 13 died, hundreds more were injured and thousands of houses were damaged when the earthquake struck near this popular tourist region in east China, officials said. MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images

  • A woman looks at a crack caused by an earthquake November 27, 2005 on the outskirts of Ruichang of Jiangxi Province, east China. An earthquake measuring 5.5 rattled parts of central China on November 26, killing at least 17 people, injuring about 8,000, and destroyed approximately 18,000 homes, according to state media. (Photo by China Photos/Getty Images)

  • Members of a Chinese relief team tour collapsed houses in the remote area of Balakot, 12 October 2005. Time is quickly running out for whatever survivors are still alive after the 08 October earthquake which killed 23 000, injured 51 000 and made 2.5 million homeless in Pakistan. PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images

  • In this Oct. 10, 2012 photo, a yellow crane is seen in the heap of the sorted out rubble of the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami, at the rubble collection site near the Arahama beach in Sendai, northeastern Japan. Japan's accounting of its budget for reconstruction from the disasters is crammed with spending on unrelated projects, while all along Japan's northeastern coast, dozens of communities remain uncertain of whether, when and how they will rebuild. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

  • A general view of destroyed houses on the slope of a mountain which collapsed at the height of the powerful earthquake,in the village of Songgon, La Libertad town, Negros Oriental province, central Philippines on February 8, 2012. Survivors of a deadly quake in the Philippines begged rescuers to keep searching for dozens of people buried in landslides, but officials said hopes of finding them alive were dim. TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images

  • Residents carry their belongings as they cross a damaged road, part of a national highway in the village of Tuway, Guihulngan town, Negros Oriental, in central Philippines on February 7, 2012, a day after a 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck the central Philippines. Rescuers in the Philippines dug through rubble with their bare hands and shovels after a powerful earthquake triggered landslides, collapsed homes and killed dozens of people. TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images

  • Two men collect personal belongings on January 18, 1994, Northridge, California, from their apartment building wich suffered major damage from Northridge earthquake. The Northridge earthquake occurred on January 17, 1994 at 4:31 AM Pacific Standard Time in Reseda, a neighborhood in the city of Los Angeles, California. Seven billion USD in property damage have been estimated so far from the tremor wich as killed many people. VINCE BUCCI/AFP/GettyImages

  • A view of the destroyed San Carlo old church, in San Carlo, northern Italy, Monday, May 21, 2012. A magnitude-6.0 earthquake shook northern Italy early Sunday, killing at least three people and toppling some buildings, emergency services and news reports said. The quake struck at 4:04 a.m. Sunday between Modena and Mantova, about 35 kilometers (22 miles) north-northwest of Bologna at a relatively shallow depth of 10 kilometers (6 miles), the U.S. Geological Survey said. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

  • Indonesian teacher Murliani grieves as police forensic experts recover the remains of his missing brother Mursidi Ibrahim in Banda Aceh in Aceh province on October 16, 2012. Ibrahim who was missing for nearly eight years following the December 26, 2004 tsunami was identified through a recovered national identification card after workers digging wells accidentally found the remains. The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami killed 170,000 people and entire towns flattened in Aceh province located in the northern tip of Indonesia's Sumatra island. CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN/AFP/Getty Images

  • A resident fixes his damaged home after a 7.6 magnitude earthquake on August 31 hit the town of General MacArthur, eastern Samar province, in the central Philippines on September 2, 2012. Families returned to their quake-devastated homes in the central Philippines on September 2, ignoring government warnings to relocate away from danger zones. TED ALJIBE/AFP/GettyImages

  • Iranians search the ruins of buildings at the village of Bajebaj near the city of Varzaqan in northwestern Iran, on Sunday, Aug. 12, 2012, after Saturday's earthquake. Twin earthquakes in Iran have killed at least 250 people and injured over 2,000, Iranian state television said on Sunday, after thousands spent the night outdoors after their villages were leveled and homes damaged in the country's northwest. Iran is located on seismic fault lines and is prone to earthquakes. It experiences at least one earthquake every day on average, although the vast majority are so small they go unnoticed. (AP Photo/ISNA, Arash Khamoushi)

  • A resident fixes his damaged home after a 7.6 magnitude earthquake on August 31 hit the town of General MacArthur, eastern Samar province, in the central Philippines on September 2, 2012. Families returned to their quake-devastated homes in the central Philippines on September 2, ignoring government warnings to relocate away from danger zones. TED ALJIBE/AFP/GettyImages

  • CHINA EARTHQUAKE