When a major quake does happen, it will cause...damage to tens of thousands of structures.
The U.S. Geological Survey says the central U.S. has more earthquakes than any other part of the country east of the Rocky Mountains. With that in mind, emergency planners and responders want the public to be ready.
Several states are holding Earthquake Awareness Weeks around the anniversary of the third of three devastating 1811 to 1812 New Madrid Seismic Zone earthquakes - magnitude 8 quakes that struck in December, January and February.
The quakes leveled New Madrid, Mo., and severely damaged many surrounding towns. The quakes are said to have been the strongest earthquakes to ever hit the U.S., with reports of the the extreme shaking causing church bells to ring hundreds of miles away.
"It made sense to coordinate (the awareness week) with the February 7 historic earthquake," said Steve Oglesby, the earthquake program manager for the Kentucky Division of Emergency Management (KDEM). Kentucky's Earthquake Awareness Week runs from January 29 to February 6.
Oglesby said Kentucky residents need to remember that the state is in the New Madrid Seismic Zone, and beyond that - "Scientists will tell you that they have not mapped all the fault lines here, too, so we're not even sure where else in the state major quakes can happen.
"We can do a lot more to be prepared. There are a number of things that we can do in our homes, businesses and government buildings to make them safer."
The awareness week is filled with events geared toward the public, schools, businesses and the government. A Jan. 31 town hall meeting aims to answer preparation and response questions for the public. Oglesby also highlighted the Friday, Feb. 2, event - a one-day training course entitled "Post-Earthquake Safety Evaluation of Buildings." The course is for structural engineers, building inspectors and others with construction training.
"This is an opportunity for us to expand our pool of people who would be involved in those tasks post earthquake," he said. "When a major quake does happen, it will cause...damage to tens of thousands of structures."
Other events include a statewide Duck and Cover drill, which is for local emergency managers and schools to run but which also Oglesby said he hopes will inspire every person, school, government office and business to use as a time to consider how they'd respond in an earthquake. "Businesses need to be just as prepared as we are in our homes and in our schools."
Arkansas, Mississippi, western Tennessee and Missouri are also holding Earthquake Awareness Weeks in early February. The consolidation of the awareness weeks was a move pushed by the Central United States Earthquake Consortium, of which the states are all members.
In Missouri, home to the small town of New Madrid, state officials are happy to see earthquake awareness spreading through the state and not just remaining in the historic town. "We see it as a statewide issue and even beyond that," said Steve Besemer, the Missouri Earthquake Program Manager. "Something that would be a recurrence of the 1811 and 1812 quakes would have a widespread effect on the central U.S. There probably is more interest in southeast and eastern Missouri, but I've also had many opportunities and requests to speak to people in central and northeastern Missouri, too."
Besemer said the "week's" wide range of activities, running from Feb. 1 to 11, is meant to have something for everyone. "We hope to mix it up for the different audiences out there. If you just have things for kids or businesses, you're not catching everyone that you need to be in order to make sure they're aware of the quake possibility in the Midwest."
Missouri's week includes earthquake exhibits and speakers at the St. Louis Science Center, a seminar for businesses, and a town hall meeting in New Madrid.
Besemer's favorite event for the week is the educational course "Earthquake 101" for teachers on Feb. 11 and 12. Run by the state emergency management agency and department of natural resources, the course allows the teachers to bring to the information back to their schools. "It's hard to go around and hit every classroom in Missouri to talk to kids, so this course gives teachers the education and tools they need to go back and teach it themselves," he explained.
"Part of the course is classroom instruction and part of it is a field trip to various quake features. If you get out and see it face-to-face, it has a strong effect."
Kentucky's Osgleby said the face-to-face has had an impact on his region as well. "I once had an emergency manager in eastern Kentucky call me to ask why his region had to participate in the yearly earthquake drill. I told him that first of all, it is required by law - and that, second, we don't have all the fault lines mapped. We don't know where this will happen when it does.
"Later on that afternoon there was a small quake in his county, so I called him and said, 'Did you get my message?' He said, 'Yes.'"
More links on Earthquakes
More links on Disaster Planning