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A 7.0 earthquake in the Midwest? Planning for the "maximum-of-maximums"

Posted by: Tim Manning, Deputy Administrator, Protection and National Preparedness

It’s the stuff legends are made of.  On this day 199 years ago, the first in a series of catastrophic earthquakes rocked the Midwest along the New Madrid seismic zone.  Although the epicenter of the December 16th quake was in northeast Arkansas, the magnitude of the quake reportedly caused church bells to ring along the East coast.

As the graphic above shows, an major earthquake in the New Madrid zone (of magnitude 6.0 or more) would severely affect Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio.  Several other states would be affected, ranging from Minnesota to Florida.

It’s hard to imagine a natural disaster on that scale today. For this reason, FEMA is leading a national-level exercise in May of 2011 (NLE 2011) simulating a major earthquake along the New Madrid fault.  We’re bringing all the relevant team members to the table to make the exercise as realistic as possible – federal/state/local governments, the private sector, non-profit and faith-based groups, the public, and even the international community.  FEMA leaders will provide more details on NLE 2011 as it approaches, so watch the blog for more details.

(For the emergency management types, check out an overview of Illinois’s planning for NLE 2011.)

If the 199th anniversary of New Madrid serves a purpose today, it’s that individuals and communities need to plan for what we call a “maximum of maximums” event -- a large-scale, catastrophic event.  It may be gloomy to think about, but it’s necessary to plan for the unexpected, so whether you live along the New Madrid fault line or in the Pacific Northwest, take a few minutes today to be informed about the possible disasters in your community.

We sincerely hope America never has to respond to a major earthquake in the New Madrid zone, but we need to be prepared.  Visit Ready.gov for earthquake preparedness tips and other ways you can get prepared.

We want to use this blog to share ideas and continue the conversation, so leave a comment about how your family / organization / company is preparing for a “maximum of maximums” event.

- Tim

Last Updated: 
07/10/2012 - 16:29
Posted on Thu, 12/16/2010 - 10:34
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