MAY 13, 2011 -- A modern repeat of the 1811 and 1812 New Madrid earthquakes is generally considered among the worst possible natural disasters that could occur in the United States. Next week (May 16-20), the Jackson County Emergency Preparedness & Homeland Security Department will be participating in an eight-state exercise simulating the response to such a quake.
A New Madrid earthquake as powerful as those that struck 200 years ago would likely have an epicenter in southeast Missouri (the "boot hill"). Such an earthquake has the potential to cause widespread devastation, especially to cities of St. Louis and Memphis, Tennessee. The shockwave could ripple outward as far away as Canada, New England, the Deep South and into central Nebraska.
Because damage would be less severe in Greater Kansas City, the area would be counted upon to accommodate 40,000 to 100,000 evacuees from the harder hit regions closer to the quake's epicenter. Next week's exercises include simulating a distribution center for emergency supplies, a reception center for registering displaced persons and shelters for both evacuees and pets.
For the purposes of the exercise the state of Missouri is being divided into three quadrants. The eastern third of the state will be designated an "affected area" during the exercise, meaning it will have suffered the most destruction due to the earthquake; the middle third a "response area," from which emergency responders will be sent eastward into the "affected area;" and the western third a "resource area" with the primary responsibility of receiving and caring for evacuees.
Throughout the week-long exercise, the Eastern Jackson County Emergency Management Team (EMT) will receive scenarios from the Missouri State Emergency Management Agency that will gauge the team's ability to adapt to the ongoing crisis. Those scenarios, Jackson County Emergency Preparedness Director Michael Curry explained, could range from bridges collapsing to injured people being flown into Kansas City International Airport.
"We'll have all kinds of scenarios thrown at us, and we'll have to respond to each one," Curry said.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is coordinating this exercise, which has been in the planning stages for more than 2-1/2 years. The eight states participating are Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Tennessee, Arkansas and Oklahoma.
The eight-state exercise will begin at 8:30 a.m. The Eastern Jackson County Emergency Management Team (EMT) will begin testing its communication systems, which include web-based programs, telephones, cell phones, satellite phones and multiple radio frequencies.
Tuesday, May 17
From 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., the EMT will be operating an emergency response distribution center at Lowes, located at 19000 East Valley View Parkway in Independence (off 291 Highway and Interstate 70). The public is encouraged to participate.
Trucks will be set up to simulate what would be done in the event of a real emergency, during which water and food would be distributed to individuals displaced by a disaster. (On Tuesday, the first 500 cars to go through the simulated distribution center will receive bottles of water, wrenches that can be used to shut off water and gas values, coloring books, emergency preparation educational literature and other materials.)
Wednesday, May 18
The EMT will work with the American Red Cross and Salvation Army to set up a "reception center."
Thursday, May 19
The reception center will be in operation at the Independence Events Center (19100 East Valley View Parkway, Independence, Missouri 64055). The center is where people evacuated from a disaster would go to register and get information about finding food, water and shelter.
Also, the EMT will work with the American Red Cross to run a 500-bed shelter at the Remnant Church at 2820 South Highway 291 in Independence. At the same location, the EMT will work with Independence Animal Control to operate an emergency shelter for pets -- a shelter that will include a gated area for larger animals.
Friday, May 20
The EMT will consult with the Missouri State Emergency Management Agency and other state and federal agencies as part of an in-depth review of the week-long exercise.