State to take part in earthquake preparedness exercise

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – It was just over 200 years ago that the biggest series of earthquakes in American history hit the region along the Mississippi River.
Lands in the region literally rolled, the Mississippi River apparently ran backward and the resulting shockwaves set church bells to ringing in Boston.
Given that the New Madrid Fault could someday let loose again, emergency management officials are preparing for two events focusing on earthquake preparedness.
As part of the 200th anniversary of that big New Madrid quake, Mississippi is participating with other states in the Mississippi Valley in the Great Central United States ShakeOut, a drill that will take place April 28 at 10:15 a.m.
“We’re asking schools and other organizations to sign up and learn what they need to do to conduct a drill and then all participate on that one day,” said Mike Womack, director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.
The Great ShakeOut builds on one staged in 2009 in California, where students, employees and visitors at the participating entities learned to “Drop, Cover and Hold on” to protect themselves in a quake, where most injuries come from appliances or furniture falling onto people.
“As part of their earthquake awareness, we want people to think: ‘What would I do if I were in my home and felt the ground start to shake?’” Womack said.
The second event, National Level Exercise 2011, is a multi-day event scheduled for May.
Emergency managers from across the state were in Oxford on Thursday to prepare for this exercise, when local, state and federal officials will simulate another catastrophic New Madrid quake to test their ability to respond to the collapse of the power grid, the road system and routine public functions.
“That type of catastrophic event is not likely, but it is possible,” Womack said. “If we practice the worst-case scenario, then we should be able to handle disasters of smaller consequences.”

Contact Errol Castens at (601) 281-1069 or errol.castens@journalinc.com.

Precautions can save lives in earthquakes

By Errol Castens
NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – Given this region’s proximity to the New Madrid Seismic Zone, where a catastrophic series of earthquakes began 200 years ago this year, Mississippi’s head emergency responder says it’s important for every Mid-South resident to know something about earthquake safety.
“If you live in North Mississippi, you have the potential to be involved in an earthquake,” said Mike Womack, director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. “Most people that are injured or killed from earthquakes are killed because of not taking very simple precautions.”
Recommended actions for anyone indoors when a quake hits distills down to “drop; cover; hold on.”
“DROP to the ground; take COVER by getting under a sturdy table or other piece of furniture; and HOLD ON until the shaking stops,” states a MEMA publication. “If there isn’t a table or desk near you, cover your face and head with your arms and crouch in an inside corner of the building.” MEMA recommends staying inside until the shaking stops.
For those outdoors when a quake starts, it’s important to move away from buildings, streetlights and utility wires. Motorists should stop as quickly as safety permits – avoiding buildings, trees, overpasses and wires – and stay in the vehicle.
T.W. Cooper, emergency management coordinator for Greenwood and Leflore County, said he has instilled in his family two items of preparedness that will help in a variety of emergencies.
“We have put together a disaster supply kit – one in the vehicle and one in the closet at home so that, should (family members) have to leave home, they could pick up that disaster supply kit,” Cooper said.
MEMA suggests such inclusions as flashlights, AM/FM radio, batteries, weather radio, three days’ non-perishable food and bottled water, first aid kit, prescription medications, bedding and clothing, raingear, toiletries, sunscreen, sunglasses, mosquito repellent and a supply of cash.
Cooper also encourages family members not to let their vehicles get low on fuel.

Contact Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or errol.castens@journalinc.com.