Southeast Missouri – home to the New Madrid Seismic Zone (NMSZ) – has produced some of the strongest earthquakes ever to rock North America. In 1811-1812, a series of major quakes destroyed several settlements and dramatically affected the landscape, even briefly causing the Mississippi River to run backward. The seismic zone is still active today, averaging more than 200 small earthquakes each year.
That’s why as Missouri observes Earthquake Awareness Month in February, it is important to emphasize the realistic likelihood of another catastrophic earthquake occurring in the NMSZ. While no one can predict exactly when an earthquake will occur, scientists agree that large earthquakes in this zone still pose a significant risk.
“In the 19th century, Missouri experienced a sequence of powerful earthquakes that if they occurred today would create widespread destruction and disrupt the lives of millions of people,” State Emergency Management Agency Director Ron Walker said. “Earthquake Awareness Month is an important reminder to prepare and know what to do to protect your family.”
Experts advise that when an earthquake occurs in developed nations with modern building standards, such as in the United States, people should, “Drop, Cover and Hold On.” Drop to your knees, cover your head and get under a desk or table, and hold on until the shaking stops.
Here are some steps Missourians who live in the New Madrid Seismic Zone should consider:
- Secure hanging items, bookcases and water heaters to wall studs.
- Keep an emergency kit and update the supplies on an annual basis. Include a flashlight, batteries, first-aid kit, necessary medications, a battery- or solar powered-radio, and enough drinking water and food for at least three days. A major earthquake could disrupt utilities for weeks.
- Create a family communication plan. Identify someone living at least 100 miles away that everyone can contact to “check in” and let your family know they are safe.
- Know how to turn off your gas and water.
- Find out if your house is covered for earthquake damage and, if not, consider obtaining coverage. Most homeowner earthquake insurance policies must be purchased separately.
Jeremy Gray, Emergency Manager with Southeast Missouri State University’s Department of Public Safety (DPS), urges students, faculty, and staff to take time this month to review their emergency plans and assess their living and working space. Since the greatest number of earthquake injuries are caused by falling objects, taking the time to secure loose items in your office or residence hall room can prevent future injury. In addition to securing bookcases, also consider moving heavier objects from upper shelves to the lower shelves.