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Responding to an earthquake in the New Madrid Seismic Zone would require coordination of emergency responders - mergency management agencies, police departments, National Guard units, and others - from several states. “In California, it’s all in one state,” noted Larson.
“There are a lot of things organized by state that need to communicated, like being sure they have the same frequencies on the radio,” he said. A national exercise focusing on the New Madrid Seismic Zone is planned for May.
“A natural disaster usually doesn’t cover eight states,” said Bauer. “This will be the largest exercise ever in the United States.” Every year, emergency managers collaborate on a single catastrophic event and its potential effect on the entire nation. “This year is the first time it is a natural hazard,” Bauer said. “And this one specifically is a New Madrid seismic event.”
Larson said a serious earthquake in the New Madrid Seismic Zone probably would interrupt transportation on the Mississippi River and nearby highways. Pipelines, bridges, the electrical grid and other infrastructure would be at risk.
The challenge for planners is to attempt to predict possible scenarios, such as what might happen if the power grid is damaged. “We do run exercises where the emergency management community practices its ability to react to different scenarios,” Larson said. “There are so many different possibilities it is hard to get to all of them. But you can try to be prepared.”
The New Madrid fault zone
The New Madrid seismic zone lies within the central Mississippi Valley, is 150 miles long, and touches five states. Its northernmost point is in southern Illinois, and it extends southward into eastern Arkansas and west Tennessee.
From 1811 to 1812, the New Madrid Fault Zone saw some of the largest earthquakes in North America’s history. During a four-month period, five earthquakes with magnitude estimates of 8.0 or greater were recorded in the zone. These quakes were responsible for causing the Mississippi River to briefly flow backward.
The New Madrid Fault Zone boasts at least one earthquake a day, though most are too weak to feel. Scientists say the probability of a magnitude 6.0 or larger quake occurring on the New Madrid Fault in the next 50 years is between 25 percent and 40 percent.
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