With no great shakes, is the New Madrid Seismic Zone threat exaggerated?

HARRISBURG, IL — From California to Washington to right here at home, earthquakes continue to shake their way into our lives. We’ve heard a lot about a possible “big” quake along the New Madrid Seismic Zone, but should we be too concerned? Some scientists say no.

If an earthquake happens, you are encouraged to drop, cover, and hold on. Drop where you are, onto your hands and knees. Cover your head and neck with your arms. Hold on to a sturdy table or desk.

Dr. Mike May, a professor of geography at Western Kentucky University, showed me exactly where a recent earthquake shook California.

“It’s basically an eastern zone of faults, kind of toward the central valley. And it could be felt over a much larger area, because it was beyond the San Andreas,” May said.

But, like all earthquakes, this one could not be predicted.

“The bottom line is that there’s too many variables,” May said.

With sometimes daily earthquakes, should those of us living along the New Madrid Seismic Zone be concerned?

“We are not a ticking time bomb. I think that we have several things we can rely on and that is that we know that there have been large quakes. On the New Madrid, there has not been anything like that since 1811 and 1812,” May explained.

Roughly two hours north and east of the New Madrid Seismic Zone in Harrisburg, Illinois, folks there and in other communities in the Wabash Valley Seismic Zone should be more concerned about preparedness.

“That’s the one that has had four or five moderate quakes for our region — like say fours and fives on the Rector scale,” may said.

And it turns out it’s not just about where you are, but what you are on.

“So the risk as far as you feeling it even if it’s the same magnitude some people living on one type of sediment, or dirt, or soil will feel it differently than other people,” May said.

For now, we’re standing on steady ground, but that could change at any time.