Earthquakes are unlike any other natural disaster — there is usually no warning before they occur.
"Scientists can't predict when the next big earthquake will hit Missouri, but the best way to ensure earthquake safety is to plan and prepare so that we are ready when it does happen," said State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) Director Donald L. King.
February is Earthquake Awareness Month in Missouri and officials say this month is an opportunity for schools and families to practice and discuss preparedness so that they know what to do before, during and after an earthquake."
Organizations, businesses and the general public are encouraged to practice during the third annual Great Central U.S. ShakeOut earthquake drill this Thursday, Feb. 7, at 10:15 a.m.
During the ShakeOut, participants will practice for one minute the "Drop, Cover, Hold On" technique — DROP to the ground, take COVER by getting under a sturdy desk or table and HOLD ON to it until the shaking stops.
According to the Great Central U.S. ShakeOut's website, www.shakeout.org/centralus/index.html, approximately 2.5 million participants have registered to take part in the nine-state drill. In Missouri, about 479,395 participants have registered as of Tuesday afternoon.
Among the local schools and groups that have registered on the website are the Department of the Interior — U.S. Geological Survey National Geospatial Technical Operations Center, Missouri Department of Corrections, Choices for People Center, Immanuel Lutheran School, fourth-graders at Truman Elementary, St. Patrick Catholic School and Salem Avenue Baptist Childcare Center, all in Rolla, and St. James Middle School, in St. James.
To register to take part in the ShakeOut drill, visit www.shakeout.org/centralus/register/
Phelps County Emergency Management Director Sandy North said the county courthouse has participated in the last two annual ShakeOut drills, but North is leaving the decision to participate up to each individual office this time.
North said if a big quake were to occur in southeast Missouri, Phelps County may not see much damage but warned that people can still be injured. She discouraged anybody to go outside during a quake.
"You may lose some pictures (hanging on walls) and have stuff fall of shelves," she said, adding that if a quake occurs in the southeast part of the state that falls on the Richter magnitude scale between 5 and 7, county residents may feel that. She said a recent quake in Oklahoma was felt by some residents in Edgar Springs.
Lt. Jim Macormic, of the Rolla Police Department, said each city department and building has its own plan in case of a quake. In the event of an earthquake, the emergency operations center at the RPD would be activated.
Macormic has spoken at local schools about earthquake safety and encourages families to have their own earthquake plan and kits (See sidebar).
North noted that bridges throughout the county would need to be checked after an earthquake.
Maintaining Missouri's bridges after an earthquake is also a particular concern for the Missouri Department of Transportation.
"During the ShakeOut, our emergency operations centers around the state will activate and deal with a mock-damage scenario," said Rick Bennett, MoDOT traffic liaison engineer. "We'll also ask our designated bridge inspectors to practice a post-incident bridge inspection."
MoDOT's top priority in the event of an earthquake is getting highways open for emergency response, and then restoring traffic as soon as it is safe and possible.
North said because bridges across the Mississippi and Missouri rivers would likely be shut down after a quake, it would mean that people in southeast Missouri would have to find temporary relief and shelters in areas west of the New Madrid zone like Rolla and Phelps County.
Feb. 7 marks the 201st anniversary of the largest earthquake to ever occur in Missouri, which was centered on the southeast Missouri town of New Madrid in 1812.
At least three of the largest earthquakes in history in the continental United States are believed to have occurred in the New Madrid Seismic Zone in 1811-1812.
The zone is the nation's most active earthquake zone east of the Rocky Mountains.
The earthquakes altered the flow of the Mississippi River, turned rich farmland into fields of sand and destroyed countless structures. People on the East Coast of the United States felt shaking and church bells reportedly rang as far away as New England.
While earthquakes cannot be predicted, scientists say it's only a matter of time before another major quake strikes that area. In Missouri, a major New Madrid Seismic Zone earthquake would likely be felt throughout the state, as well as nearby states to the south and east.
For earthquake preparedness tips from SEMA, visit http://sema.dps.mo.gov/earthquake_preparedness/.