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May 19, 2013

The Big One: Preparing for mid-America earthquake

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Even people uninitiated in earthquakes are somewhat prepared, according to FEMA, based on experience with other disasters, among them tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and wildfires.

‘THEY STILL DIED’

That may be true, but earthquakes present their own complications, said Amr S. Elnashai, outgoing director of the Mid-America Earthquake Center at the University of Illinois. Earthquakes have aftershocks and cause landslides, for example.

For all its planning, said Elnashai, “the Midwest is more aware but it is not better prepared.” 

There has not been much work to improve and retrofit pipelines, most buildings, or critical facilities like schools, banks and chemical plants.

In the end, preparedness only gets us so far, said Lueker, the emergency management director in Jefferson County, Ill. He noted what happened in 2011 on the northeast coast of earthquake-prone Japan, where some who heard sirens going off after a magnitude 9.0 quake still stood and watched an approaching tsunami.

“They’re the best-trained people in the world, and they still died,” he said. “As well trained as those people are, it makes me wonder how well we can be prepared.”

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