With thousands dead and injured in Japan's worst disaster in decades -- a magnitude-9.0 earthquake -- area emergency personnel like Jamie Koehler understand it may seem inconceivable to prepare for a crisis at home.
Still, Koehler, the Southeast Missouri American Red Cross emergency services director, said Monday now may be the perfect time for Missouri families to plan for a natural disaster.
"We live in a really unique area having the river on one side of us, tornado alley to the other side of us and a fault to the south of us," Koehler said. "Then with all these ice storms and wind storms. ... It feels like we're in a high-risk area."
The fault south of Cape Girardeau, the New Madrid Seismic Zone, has had numerous earthquakes, none more damaging than the quakes 200 years ago.
The latest event at the New Madrid fault, which crosses five state lines, was recorded March 8, according to the Center for Earthquake Research at the University of Memphis Center of Excellence. It occurred about 15 miles southeast of Sikeston and three miles from East Prairie, and its magnitude was registered as 2.7.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, damage depends less on magnitude than on other variables, such as distance from the earthquake and soil type. Still, it said damage does not usually occur until the magnitude reaches somewhere above 4 or 5.
"For every study that we find that says it's going to happen again, that we're overdue, you can find another one that say it's never going to happen," Koehler said. "I don't know which to believe; I just know we live on a fault line and we need to pay attention, we need to be prepared and we need to have plans."
Those plans, she said, should include creating a disaster kit with nonperishable foods, water and other materials a family would need to support themselves for at least seven days. A radio, flashlight, batteries, a whistle, and a pair of sturdy shoes and work gloves should be included, Koehler said.
"You want it accessible in case you have to evacuate, and you want to take it with you," she said.
In preparing for a disaster, families should also develop a plan on where to meet after an event occurs and a communication calling tree to let other relatives know how they are.
Koehler recommends families choose a meeting site relatively close to their home and a relative out-of-state to call additional family and inform them of what may be happening.
"What can happen during a disaster is our phone lines are going to be swamped with calls, if the phones work at all. So we may not be able to call one another within a disaster area," Koehler said.
As a way of educating residents, a statewide earthquake drill called The Great Shakeout will be April 28.
Although Missourians should be prepared for an earthquake and its aftermath, a University of Missouri geological sciences professor said in a news release Monday that the Japan earthquake is different than the events along the New Madrid fault. Mian Liu, who has studied earthquakes overseas and in Southeast Missouri, said the earthquake that struck Japan was caused by shifting between tectonic plates. The earthquakes along the New Madrid fault occur on a more complicated network of faults within the North American plate.
"As far as the New Madrid fault is concerned, we need to look at the 'big picture' of interacting faults, rather than focusing only on the faults where large earthquakes occurred in the recent past," Liu said.
He said that despite improved technology scientists still can't predict when or where the next event may be.
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