Hold On Until The Shaking Stops: Missouri Participates In Regional Earthquake Drill

Oct 19, 2017

It’s time for your annual reminder of what to do when – not if – the New Madrid fault goes.

Drop to the floor. Cover your head. Hold on until the shaking stops.  

More than 500,000 Missourians participated in a regional earthquake drill Thursday morning. The Missouri bootheel is home to the largest active seismic zone east of the Rocky Mountains, which produces more than 200 earthquakes a year. Most of them can’t be felt, through a 3.6 magnitude earthquake shook Southeastern Missouri Sunday morning.

“The seismologists and the geologists say it’s only a matter of time before we have some big earthquakes happen here,” says Jeff Briggs of the Missouri State Emergency Management Agency, which coordinates the “ShakeOut” every year.

Though Kansas City wouldn't incur serious damage from an earthquake in the New Madrid Seismic Zone, aftershocks would be felt as far away as Central Kansas.
Credit Jackson County Emergency Preparedness

The effects of a really big earthquake would be felt as far away as Memphis and displace about 300,000 people. A magnitude 7.0 earthquake would shake bricks off buildings in Kansas City.

“In the U.S. and other developed countries, it’s much less likely you’ll get stuck in a building collapse,” Briggs says. “It’s much more likely the way people will get injured or killed is through debris.”

That’s why it’s so important to stay where you are when the big one strikes. Take a step or two away from heavy objects, then get down and protect your head and neck.

“We never advise running because running is going to be dangerous,” Briggs says. “You’ll be likely to get knocked over because violent shaking, it’s awfully hard to stay on your feet. If you’re running, that means you’re exposed to any debris that might be flying around.”

It’s been 206 years since the last big earthquake along the New Madrid fault, and the next one – emergency managers across the state are preparing as if it’s a certainty – could devastate St. Louis.

It won’t be anything like the earthquakes Southern California experiences on the regular, Briggs says.

“The bedrock out there is very mountainous and broken up, so the shaking doesn’t travel that far,” Briggs says. “It’s very different here in the Midwest. We have very loose, sandy, moist soil around rivers where this New Madrid zone is centered, and so a large shaking from a big event would be felt for hundreds of miles in every direction.”

Also Thursday, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback signed a proclamation designating “Zombie Preparedness Month,” which the Kansas Division of Emergency Management says is a fun way to remind citizens that stockpiling for zombie apocalypse will also ensure your family is ready to face tornadoes, floods, blizzards and earthquakes.

Elle Moxley covers Missouri schools and politics for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.