More than 690,000 British Columbians joined millions of people around the world Thursday in a global earthquake drill.

Dubbed the "Great ShakeOut," the natural disaster preparedness exercise happened at 10:17 a.m. local time.

The annual drill was carried out in workplaces and schools, where drill participants dropped to the floor, sought cover under desks and held on as practice for a real quake.

"People need to have an awareness that (earthquakes) can happen," said B.C.'s Oak Bay Deputy Fire Chief Dave Cockle, in a Great ShakeOut B.C. video posted on YouTube. "And if it does happen, is your family prepared, are you prepared, is your business prepared?"

Last month, 13,000 people in Quebec's Charlevoix region -- located on the north shore of the Saint Lawrence River – also took part in a Great ShakeOut drill.

The first Great ShakeOut was held in 2008 in California, the second most earthquake-prone state in the U.S. after Alaska, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Other countries participating in the exercise this year include Italy and Japan.

In March 2011, a devastating earthquake and tsunami struck Japan, causing widespread damage and crippling the Dai-Ichi nuclear plant in Fukushima. Radioactive water from the power plant has since been leaking into the Pacific Ocean – a problem the Japanese government has been trying to contain.

In recent weeks, powerful quakes have hit other parts of the world. In the Philippines, more than 100 people died after a 7.2-magnitutde earthquake struck the central Philippine island of Bohol. Many roads and buildings were damaged by the disaster, making rescue operations difficult.

It’s those types of scenarios that organizers of the Great BC Shakeout want to ensure residents are prepared for.

“We don’t want people thinking they need to run for anything,” Miranda Myles, Simon Fraser University's emergency and continuity planner told CTV British Columbia. “They need to protect themselves as close to where they are as possible.”

A recent survey of 1,000 British Columbians found 65 per cent didn’t know the best way to stay safe in a quake.

But on Canada's west coast, approximately 4,000 earthquakes are recorded every year, according to Natural Resources Canada earthquake seismologist Alison Bird.

"A lot of people assume there are no earthquakes because they don't feel them," Bird said in the Great ShakeOut B.C. video, adding that in B.C. there is a potential for a megathrust earthquake, which many people refer to as the 'big one.'

This year, organizers of the Great ShakeOut say the focus of the drill was on fires that may start as a result of utility lines ruptured during an earthquake.

During the exercises, first responders rehearse their emergency response plans and transportation departments practise slowing down trains, for instance.

In the event of an earthquake, you should:

  1. Drop to the ground where you are
  2. Take cover under a sturdy table. If there isn't a table nearby, cover your face and head with your arms
  3. Hold on to something sturdy. When the shaking stops, move carefully as there could be broken glass and fallen items in the way.

People are also advised to have an earthquake emergency kit on-hand and develop a communication plan in the event of a quake.

Concerns have also been raised in B.C. over buildings still in need of seismic upgrades.

B.C. Attorney General Suzanne Anton said the province has been working through the upgrades in a “methodical” way.

“Every public building that is seismically vulnerable obviously is a priority,” she said.

With a report from CTV British Columbia’s Maria Weisgarber