Website spotlight: Disaster planning: What we can learn from recent events

Staff Development Weekly: Insight on Evidence-Based Practice in Education, June 24, 2011

On Friday, March 11, a magnitude 8.9 earthquake occurred near the east coast of Honshu, Japan. The initial earthquake was followed shortly by its self-generated tsunami. The unforgiving wall of water, estimated at nearly 10 meters (33 feet), obliterated tens of thousands of buildings.

The question, however, that begs to be asked is: How would we withstand and recover from such an event? Have we made the same investments in earthquake protection as Japan? Are building codes adequate? Have realistic exercises been conducted? Are the populations at risk really aware of their situation and prepared to self-sustain if needed?

This question brings into relevance the New Madrid fault earthquake zone. This seismic zone is six times bigger than the San Andreas fault zone in California and encompasses portions of the states of Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi.

In 1895, a magnitude 6.8 earthquake, the largest in U.S. history, struck in this zone. Earlier, in 1811 and 1812, there were four earthquakes reported, and it was estimated that all four reached a magnitude of 7.0. Based on recent observations, there are many who believe that the New Madrid fault is "waking up."

Whether there is validity in that statement will be left to the scientists and our unfolding history. The message, however, is that the Japan earthquake should be a wake-up call. Could a similar cascade of events impact us as it has one of the most prepared and resilient nations on the planet? Are we prepared? Do we have the mind-set necessary to anticipate what is possible or likely to occur? Do we have the ability to assimilate the events unfolding in Japan into our psyche?

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