Great Central U.S. ShakeOut seeks to raise awareness in earthquake emergency drills

Monday, January 30, 2012 | 9:35 p.m. CST; updated 9:45 a.m. CST, Tuesday, January 31, 2012

COLUMBIA — The impending bicentennial anniversary of the earthquake that devastated New Madrid, on Feb. 7, 1812, has caused some seismologists to wonder when the next major natural catastrophe will strike mid-Missouri.

But alarm is not what the Great Central U.S. ShakeOut — a minute-long earthquake drill that will occur simultaneously in nine states Feb. 7 — intends to raise, said Missouri state geologist Joe Gillman in a promotional video.

Gillman said promoting awareness and preparedness among the public, first responders and civil engineers is the event's top priority.

The ShakeOut hinges on three key concepts: "Drop, cover and hold on." That is, drop to the ground, take cover beneath a table and hold on until the shaking subsides.

Debris and topple-prone objects, such as televisions or bookcases, pose the greatest hazard during an earthquake, according to a memo released Monday by the Missouri Department of Public Safety. That's why Steve Besemer of the Missouri State Emergency Management Agency said he'd like the three-phase reaction "to be as automatic as possible."

Registration for the event remains open to the public. Nearly 500,000 Missourians took part in last year's inaugural drill.

Students at Paxton Keeley Elementary were among them. Principal Elaine Hassemer said the school plans to participate this year, too.

Hassemer described how her staff incorporated supplemental materials provided on the ShakeOut's website, including a noise simulator and discussion points, into the exercise.

"It makes it more realistic for the kids," Hassemer said. "It helps them understand the dangers."

Life in close proximity to the New Madrid Seismic Zone, which experiences more seismic activity than any other region east of the Rocky Mountains, sometimes seems like a game of chance.

But preparedness can help ease the tension, said Paul Parmenter, director of Missouri State Emergency Management Agency.

"It's vital to know what to do ahead of time," Parmenter said. "The ShakeOut drill is the best way to learn how to protect yourself and your family, and it only takes a minute."

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