IEMA
12:20 pm
Tue June 17, 2014

Illinois Test Runs Earthquake Response

IEMA Director Jonathon Monken
IEMA Director Jonathon Monken
Credit http://www.iema.illinois.gov/about/Director.asp / IEMA, Illinois Emergency Management Agency, Monken

The Midwest isn't typically thought of as a place at risk of a major earthquake. Illinois Emergency Management Agency Director Jonathon Monken says the chances are higher than most people would estimate. He says the U.S. Geological Survey says that in the next 50 years, there is a 10-percent chance that Illinois could experience an earthquake of the magnitude emergency responders are running practice exercises for this week. It's meant to test capabilities in the event of a quake in the New Madrid and Wabash Valley seismic zones. Monken told WUIS Statehouse Bureau Chief Amanda Vinicky the last time Illinois suffered from a major earthquake was in 1811.

Monken says the 1811 quake is believed to be the most powerful earthquake recorded in North America's history.

"In 1811, 1812, the earthquake was strong enough that it actually rang church bells in Boston and reversed the flow of the Mississippi River."

Of course, then Illinois had far fewer people, and fewer buildings. Plus, building codes in the central U.S. aren't like they are out West, where frequent quakes mean buildings and roads are constructed to withstand shifts in the earth. Which is to say -- a quake of the magnitude of the one that happened in the early 19th century would be, as Monken puts it, catastrophic.

That's not to say one is going to happen anytime soon; Monken says geologists predict a 10-percent chance of such a quake in the next 50 years.

But state emergency responders from Illinois and other states will spend several days running a large-scale exercise to test recovery capabilities.