Kentuckians sign up for earthquake drill

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As published in the Courier-Journal, 18 April 2011

Written by Pinky Mehta, Associated Press

The New Madrid fault lies in western Kentucky and a major earthquake has been predicted for years. The 1812 earthquake along the New Madrid fault was the largest in U.S. history; it caused the Mississippi River to temporarily run backwards, with major damage as far away as Lexington, Kentucky.


FRANKFORT, Ky — About 255,300 Kentucky residents and more than 2.1 million people in a wide region of the central United States have registered to participate in the area’s largest earthquake disaster preparedness drill.

The Kentucky Division of Emergency Management is asking participants to “drop, cover, and hold on,” at 10:15 a.m. CDT April 28.

Spokesman Buddy Rogers said the region’s next big earthquake can’t be predicted but damage will range in the billions of dollars. Schools, businesses, individual citizens, and government officials are expected to participate in the drill.

Dubbed the Great Central U.S. ShakeOut, the drill will be a coincidental prelude to a weeklong national earthquake preparedness exercise starting May 16.

Like other states along the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, the New Madrid fault is one of several faults that crisscross Kentucky, KDEM director John Heltzel said.

The April 28 shakeout will take into account emergency response lessons learned from the severe winter ice storms in 2010-2011. Emergency Management improvements include quicker response times and improved communication.

Heltzel said the response posture has changed.

“Typically Midwestern states normally think of response in terms of days. In Kentucky, under the governor’s leadership now, we think in terms of hours,” Heltzel said.

Communication systems have also been tweaked. Emergency Management has partnered with more than 120 amateur radio operators in every county, alternated bridging and routing and prepared additional satellite communications.

The National Level Exercise 2011 will simulate what would happen if a 7.7 magnitude earthquake strikes the New Madrid Seismic Zone — comprising three different fault lines loosely joined — in western Kentucky.

The simulated impact on the commonwealth would include 235,000 people seeking shelter, while 330,000 households would be without power. Critical infrastructure would be destroyed or damaged, including 250 bridges. Communication would fail or be greatly impaired. Emergency responders would scramble to get information and local emergency management would be limited in getting information out.

But Heltzel said his team would be prepared in this “what if” scenario.

“I think we have absolutely the best response plan in the history of the commonwealth,” he said.


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