Readiness key to southern Illinois earthquake survival

By Sharon Wittke

Southern Illinois is on a major faultline, and there is a 25 to 40 percent probability that an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.0 or higher will hit the central United States in the next 50 years.

Brian Blake, the keynote speaker at the Disaster Preparedness Fair held Saturday at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Carbondale, said there is a 10 percent chance of an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.5 or higher hitting Illinois.

The fair was held to educate the public on measures to take when an earthquake or other natural disaster strikes, and to promote the Great Central U.S. Shake Out drill, scheduled for Tuesday at 10:15 a.m. The drill will last about two minutes and is designed to reinforce the three steps everyone should perform during an earthquake — drop, cover and hold on.


Blake said 2.2 million people in nine states have signed up to participate in the drill, which is based on California’s earthquake drills. Of those registered, 425,000 live in Illinois.

Blake said that if a magnitude 7.7 earthquake were to hit the central United States today, about 7 million people would be homeless. About 85,000 people would be injured and there would be about 3,500 deaths, he said.

Two million people would need to seek shelter, he said. About 2.6 million households would be without electricity and 1.1. million households wouldn’t have water.

“What we do now before the next damaging earthquake will determine what our lives are like after,” Blake said.

Blake said the first action people should take during an earthquake is to drop to the ground and protect their heads and necks with their arms or a pillow, if one is handy.

Next, he said, a person should take cover by getting under something sturdy, like a table or desk, then hold onto it until the shaking stops.

Blake said many injuries during earthquakes could be avoided if people would secure tall furniture such as china cabinets, refrigerators and shelving units to the walls.


“Most injuries occur from things falling on people,” he said.

Practice is essential to increase the likeliness of surviving an earthquake, he said. Individuals and communities can take proactive steps for preparedness. One way is to perform the earthquake drill regularly so people can identify areas for improvements and take corrective action.

Blake, program coordinator for the non-profit organization Central United States Earthquake Consortium — out of Memphis, Tenn. — said the projected cost of a major earthquake would be $300 billion. Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in 2005, cost about $88 billion.

He said southern Illinois is part of the New Madrid seismic zone, which is made up of several fault zones that stretch from Marked Tree, Ark., to Cairo.

Two hundred years ago Tuesday the last of three successive New Madrid earthquakes rocked the central United States. The final quake, thought to be a magnitude 7.7, was felt as far away as Washington, D.C., Blake said.

The earthquakes and aftershocks, which spanned from December 1811 to February 1812, destroyed the town of New Madrid, Mo., and created Reelfoot Lake, the largest natural body of water in Tennessee.

The earthquake consortium was established in 1983 to reduce deaths, injuries and property loss related to earthquakes, Blake said. The eight member states — Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Kentucky and Tennessee — conduct earthquake awareness and education programs such as Tuesday’s Great Central U.S. Shake Out drill.

Students from SIUC’s earthquake outreach team, led by Harvey Henson, assistant dean at the College of Science, joined Blake in presenting information about earthquakes.

Dustan Heidel, a junior from Red Bud studying biology, introduced the film, “Suddenly…on an Average Day,” that Henson and Scott Hodgson of University of Oklahoma produced with a grant from the Illinois Emergency Management Agency in partnership with CUSEC.

The seven-minute film instructs viewers on what to do if an earthquake strikes in a variety of scenarios.

Heidel said he is interested in educating others about earthquake preparedness.

“The easiest way to inform the population is to start with schoolchildren,” he said. Children are eager to share what they’ve learned and will pass information along to their families, he said.

Austin Robertson, a senior from Belleville majoring in geology, was also part of the presentation team.

“I never thought of the drills in high school as a legitimate issue until I felt the Mt. Carmel [earthquake] in 2008,” he said, referring to the magnitude 5.2 quake that shook eastern Illinois in April 2008.

Representatives from community organizations that deal with disasters were also on hand with information about emergency shelters, food preparation during a disaster and survival kit necessities.

Sarah Burke, a church member and a hostess, said her church held the program in an effort to help the Carbondale community become better prepared for any type of disaster, natural or man-made.

“Since we believe in preparedness as a church, we want to help our neighbors be prepared, too,” she said.