Quake specialists share information at workshop

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Missouri experiences about 200 earthquakes each year, most too small to be felt.

Christine Aide carries an emergency backpack in the trunk of her car. She keeps enough food in her house for months. Aide vividly recalls being in St. Louis during the Nov. 9, 1968, earthquake that was centered near Dale, Ill., and made her home's brick mortar crumble.

"I remember the sound of it falling between the walls," she said.

Aide, a dentist-turned-geologist, teaches geoscience classes at Southeast Missouri State University. Wednesday morning, she sat among a small group of city officials and members of the media, learning about earthquakes from other quake specialists.

The workshop is one part of a long-term state drive to educate people about preparing for a major earthquake. The Missouri Emergency Management Center coordinated the event, with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and the Mid-America Earthquake Center. Each of the speakers reminded the audience of an estimated 25 to 40 percent likelihood that a magnitude-6 earthquake will occur in Southeast Missouri before 2040.

Gary Patterson, a geologist with the Mid-America Earthquake Center, is based at the University of Memphis' Center for Earthquake Research and Information. He said the toughest part of the awareness campaign is figuring out how to share vital information "without scaring people to death."

He said Missouri experiences about 200 earthquakes each year, most too small to be felt. Simple preparation and awareness, he said, will help save lives when a magnitude-4 or larger temblor occurs.

Steve Besemer, earthquake program manager for Missouri's emergency management agency, said a magnitude-5 to magnitude-8 earthquake in the Midwest can be compared to Hurricane Katrina, because it is likely to happen, but no one knows exactly when.

He said the annual earthquake awareness week in February will be expanded next year to a monthlong communication effort.

Meanwhile, the state is pulling together agreements for emergency response support from other states, such as Nebraska, that would be tapped after a major earthquake, flood, a tornado or wind storm. The plan can be used for such emergencies as quakes, floods, fire, ice storms and major power outages.

Chad Shrand, a structural engineer with the Chesterfield, Mo., based engineering consulting company, CCS Group, suggested businesses begin:

* Evaluating risks.

* Deciding protection priorities for building and its contents as well as information and communication.

* Determining what to protect using backup systems or remote facilities.

* Making necessary changes.

Some plans may be as simple as bracing heavy equipment or reorganizing hallways to remove bookcase or shelving units, which could fall and block an exit, he said.

The cost of retrofitting a building is generally 6 to 7 percent of what it would cost of to recover unprotected losses after a disaster.

Sue Evers, a natural hazards program specialist with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said people are most likely to be injured by running out of a building during or immediately after an earthquake and getting hit by falling debris. She said residents can get Community Emergency Response Team training. Southeast Missouri State University periodically offers the classes. Visit www4.semo.edu/training4/CERT1.html for details.

Mark Hasheider, Cape Girardeau's assistant fire chief, was also at Wednesday's workshop. He has run the city's emergency operations center since 1989 and attended a state-run emergency drill in June. He said one of the goals is to make sure all employees are prepared to respond to emergencies in their own homes and neighborhoods first.

pmcnichol@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 127

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