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Earthquake drill planned for Missouri families, schools, businesses

Thursday, April 21, 2011 | 4:03 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Ten states along the New Madrid fault line plan to hold a collective earthquake drill at 10:15 a.m. April 28.

The drill, known as the Great Central U.S. ShakeOut, will commemorate the 200th anniversary of the New Madrid earthquakes in 1811 and 1812, estimated to have had magnitudes of 8.0, said Zim Schwartze, Public Safety Joint Communications director. The earthquakes shook the Midwest and were felt all the way to the East Coast.

"It was very significant," she said. "It changed the course of rivers and the landscape."

Schwartze said this drill is also timely considering the recent earthquakes in Japan and elsewhere in the world. She said organizers of the event want to raise awareness so that families, schools and businesses will be prepared in case of an earthquake.

Rich Serino, deputy administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said during a press conference call that FEMA had been planning the drill as one of its sponsors before the earthquakes in Japan. He noted the importance of realizing that the Midwest could also experience a severe earthquake.

"The reason we want to do this is not to scare people but to empower them," Serino said during the conference call.

So far 347 schools, 61 businesses and 388 individuals and families in Missouri have signed up to participate in the drill, according to the ShakeOut website.

Paxton Keeley Elementary School signed up for the drill early, and it will consequently be open to media outlets as an example of school earthquake drills.

The school will follow its usual procedures with the addition of playing ShakeOut's audio over the intercom.

The school typically conducts two earthquake drills each year, which include taking cover under desks and holding firmly onto them. Additionally, the school has electronic and hard-copy records of emergency contacts for each child, and each teacher has emergency files with the same information in classrooms, principal Elaine Hassemer said.

Emergency plans between parents and children are essential, said Ernie Allen, president and CEO of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, another partner in the ShakeOut program.

"In times of national disaster or emergency, one of the things that tends to happen is families are dislocated," Allen said.

After Hurricane Katrina, the center helped return 5,192 children to their parents, Allen said. The last child, a 5-year-old, was reconnected with her family six months after the hurricane, he said.

"We hope that the moms and dads will really pay attention," Allen said. He noted that in a disaster, people can lose homes and cell phones; they lose normal means to find each other.

Allen said he wants families to take this opportunity to sit down together and make emergency plans, discussing whom to call and where to go. They should consider getting identification cards, which he said are available at www.ready.gov.

Four thousand people across the state have already signed up to participate, Schwartze said.

Serino said the total number of participants has topped 2.6 million people.

More information about the drill and signing up for the program can be found at the ShakeOut website.


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