Missourians will observe the bicentennial of the New Madrid Earthquakes, which occurred in 1811 and 1812, this year with a statewide "ShakeOut" drill on April 28 and a five-day training exercise focused on coordinated local, state and federal response to a 7.7-magnitude New Madrid Seismic Zone (NMSZ) earthquake to be held May 16-20.
"We don't know when the next big earthquake will hit Missouri, but we've got to be ready when it does," said State Emergency Management Agency Director Paul Parmenter.
The NMSZ, centered in southeast Missouri, is the nation's most active earthquake zone east of the Rocky Mountains. At least three of the largest earthquakes in the history of the continental United States are believed to have occurred in that area in 1811 to 1812.
The largest of the quakes was centered in the southeast Missouri town of New Madrid and occurred on Feb. 7, 1812. The earthquakes altered the flow of the Mississippi River and turned rich farmland into fields of sand. The series earthquakes, which occurred over a period of weeks, destroyed countless structures. The strength of the quakes were reportedly felt as far was Washington, D.C., and rang church bells in Boston.
Although no one can predict future earthquakes, scientists know that it is only a matter of time before another major quake strikes the area.
A major NMSZ earthquake would likely be felt throughout the state as well as nearby states to the south and east. Missouri has a comprehensive earthquake response plan in place to assist the 47 counties that would likely be the most severely impacted.
One of the best ways that the public can get involved is to join the Great Central U.S. ShakeOut, slated to take place April 28. Missouri is one of seven midwestern states asking residents to participate in an earthquake drill scheduled for 10:15 a.m. that day.
During the drill, residents should practice the "Drop, Cover and Hold On" technique for 60 seconds. At 10:15 a.m., April 28, citizens should drop to the ground, take cover by getting under a sturdy desk or table and hold on until the shaking stops.
In May, officials throughout the state will also take part in a national level exercise, focusing on a coordinated response to a 7.7 magnitude NMSZ earthquake.
For more information on these events and other earthquake resources, visit the State Emergency Management Agency's website at sema.dps.mo.gov/earthquake_preparedness_2011.