Are we overdue for the Next Big One? In an effort to inform and prepare viewers for a potential natural disaster, "Dateline" teams up with the University of California-Berkeley's Engineering Research Center to sponsor a unique demonstration that shows an earthquake's destructive power, and what people can do to survive it. "Dateline's" Hoda Kotb has a preview.

May 18, 2006 | 8:00 a.m. ET

Shaken and stirred: scared during my first (fake) earthquake (Hoda Kotb, Dateline correspondent)

I don't know if any of you have ever been in an earthquake. For me, I am a Southern girl and have never experienced one... until this story.

I have covered hurricanes in New Orleans, Mississippi and Alabama.  They are so frightening, but at least you see them coming: Doppler Radar, the Weather Channel, meteorologists— they all let you know  where it will hit and at what time. 

Earthquakes hit out of nowhere, with no advance warning, there is nothing you can do. I learned this first hand when flew into Oakland a couple of weeks ago.  Okay it wasn't a *real* earthquake, but it felt like one.

My producer, Tim Uehlinger had the experts set up a Mobile Earthquake lab.  It is a simulator, furnished like an office, and is connected to a rig that makes the whole room rock and roll like the real thing.

They set the dial to a Magnitude 6.9.  I climbed into the room, perched on a table and then someone pushed the button.

Stuff started flying off the shelves, the table nearly upended, and I could hardly hold on.  The weird thing is, as the room was heaving, I KNEW it was fake— that someone could just push the button again and it would all stop. But  for some reason, during those seconds, that rational thought leaves your mind.

When I stepped out of the simulator I was shaking.

I know you don't know me well, but I want you to know that I am no scaredy-cat in general.  I am usually a nerves of steel kinda girl...  usually.

So who would have thought a silly little earthquake simulator could unhinge me, even if just for a few minutes?

According to the Federal Government, a catastrophic earthquake in San Francisco could be far worse than anything America saw in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. So far this year more than 600 earthquakes have rumbled across America, and not all of them were in California.

"Earthquake" will air Dateline Sunday, 7 p.m. Click here to learn more.

May 17, 2006 | 8:20 p.m. ET

Shaken awake to the threat (Tim Uehlinger, Senior National Producer)

Imagine stopping by your local hardware store, minding your own business, when all of sudden you're approached by a producer from Dateline NBC.  This TV guy tells you he wants to come right over to your home, take pictures of all your stuff, meet and interview your wife and stepdaughter... and then promise that he'll literally wreck your place.  

You might want to slug him — or call the cops.

But that actually happened to San Francisco resident Rich Fritsch several weeks ago.   I was the TV producer who approached him. And because he's a very nice guy, Rich neither punched me out nor called the authorities.   In fact, Rich and his family cooperated with us, and our special report on earthquakes this Sunday is a result. 

We wanted to approach a family at random, out of the blue, with no "warning" at all —  just the way an earthquake would.

Rich, his wife Kelly, and stepdaughter, Alexis, let us take video and digital pictures of their furnishings so we could re-create some of the rooms in their home to show how their household would fare if San Francisco was hit by the "Big One."  That's the long-feared 8.0-or greater quake that seismologists say is possible in the Bay Area at any time.

Then, along with the University of California-Berkeley's Earthquake Engineering Center, we sponsored the construction of a slightly-scaled-down mock-up of the Fritsches' place, right down to the wallpaper.  The mock-up was built on an apparatus known as the "shaking table" that simulates a real earthquake. 

When we brought the Fritsches in for the demonstration shaking a few weeks later, they were shaking their heads at how much it looked like the interior of their home. They REALLY shook their heads when they saw what the "Big One" would have done.  But as bad as the damage was, we were able to show the Fritsches a few ways to much better protect themselves.

And as we were researching the report, correspondent Hoda Kotb and I were really surprised at the extent of earthquake risk across the country. We found that earthquakes are NOT just a threat for people like me who live in California. They also threaten large portions of the South, the Midwest, and the Northeast as well. There will be much more about the earthquake threat in our show Sunday night and online at MSNBC.com.

"Earthquake" will air Dateline Sunday, 7 p.m.

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