Missouri marks Earthquake Awareness Month with safety tips

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Each February, the state of Missouri observes Earthquake Awareness Month to emphasize the potential for a major earthquake occurring in the New Madrid Seismic Zone (NMSZ) and the importance of being prepared.

Located in Southeast Missouri, the NMSZ generated some of the most powerful earthquakes to ever jolt the nation. A series of major quakes in 1811-1812 destroyed buildings, rang church bells hundreds of miles away, and briefly caused the Mississippi River to run backward.

The area remains active today, averaging more than 200 earthquakes annually, though most are too small to be felt. While it’s impossible to predict exactly when an earthquake will occur, scientists agree that large earthquakes in this zone still pose a significant risk. Experts estimate a 25 to 40 percent chance of a large earthquake occurring within the next 50 years.

“Missouri faces a variety of severe weather threats and hazards each year, but a large earthquake could potentially be the worst natural disaster the state has ever experienced,” State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) Director Jim Remillard said. “There is no warning for earthquakes, which is why it’s so important to learn about the risks and how to protect yourself before one occurs.”

When shaking starts, the best way to stay safe and protect yourself from falling debris is the “Drop, Cover, and Hold On” technique. Drop to your knees, cover your head, get under a desk or table if possible, and hold on until the shaking stops. In developed countries with modern structures, falling debris is the most common source of injury, experts say.

In active earthquake zones, preparing by taking simple safety steps before an earthquake occurs is also important:

  • Bolt bookcases to wall studs, install strong latches on cupboards and secure your home’s water heater to prevent fires or gas leaks and preserve a valuable water source.
  • Secure overhead lighting fixtures and move heavy objects from high shelves to lower ones to prevent injuries from falling debris.
  • Assemble an emergency kit, including a flashlight, first aid supplies, portable radio, drinking water, and blankets. A major earthquake could leave families without utilities for weeks.
  • Develop a family communication plan. Identify a relative living at least 100 miles away as a point of contact for post-earthquake check-ins.
  • Learn how to turn off your gas and water.
  • Check if your house is covered for earthquake damage. Most homeowner insurance policies do not include earthquake coverage – it must be purchased separately.

Several resources for families, schools, and businesses are available on SEMA’s Earthquake Preparedness website. Included are fact sheets, interactive maps, and informational videos explaining what to do in the event of an earthquake.

For more information, please visit the State Emergency Management Agency website.

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