Quake response

It's been almost two centuries since the massive earthquake in the New Madrid Fault. The epicenter of that fault is in Missouri's Bootheel.

There is no reason to believe another New Madrid earthquake is imminent, other than the fact that fault zones don't shift on a timetable and earthquakes can't be predicted. But there are plenty of reasons to believe the earthquake zone isn't adequately prepared for a major disaster.

U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson and U.S. Sen. Jim Talent want to change that. Like all Americans, they have seen how government at every level responded after Hurricane Katrina. They would like to think a more effective response could be coordinated here. Local emergency-preparedness officials agree that, while it's next to impossible to anticipate everything, more and better planning are needed in the event of a major earthquake.

Emerson and Talent are pushing for a federally sponsored multistate emergency response exercise, which is likely to be conducted sometime next year. The exercise would be a field test simulating a real disaster.

To be realistic, such a field test will have to assume that most highways are impassable, phone service is down, electricity is off and water supplies are disrupted. In today's technological environment, testing the ability of emergency responders to cope under these circumstances sounds like a worthwhile exercise.