What constitutes acceptable earthquake risk in the Central United States?

Earthquakes are a common part of life in California. Towns are prepared for major seismic events and most residents consider earthquake safety an important issue. But in the Midwest, people rarely think of the large New Madrid fault zone underneath their feet.

According to seismologists, major New Madrid earthquakes are rare. When one eventually occurs, however, it can be catastrophic. So how do small towns that line the New Madrid fault zone improve earthquake preparedness when immediate risk and awareness are low and town budgets are stretched?

"Unfortunately earthquake safety in the Midwest is event driven -- most people will not begin to care about the risk until an earthquake happens," says David Gillespie, Ph.D., disaster preparedness expert and professor of social work at Washington University in St. Louis. "Town leaders need to think long-term -- 25 or 50 years out -- about incremental improvements in safety measures that can be sustained. This is a different kind of planning, but it is necessary to be ready for the eventual catastrophic quake that will strike."

Gillespie presented the paper, "Dyanmics of Earthquake Safety and Economic Development," on Feb. 20 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement science, held Feb. 16-20 in St. Louis.

In his study, Gillespie and colleagues examined 15 years of data from a small Southern Illinois town to see whether it was possible to promote both earthquake safety and economic development.

"We used the Applied Technology Council's ATC-21 measure of seismic building safety to compare earthquake safety to the town's economic development," Gillespie says.

"We looked at the fraction of safe buildings and the fraction of new and retrofitted buildings in the town. Using conflict theory, we hypothesized that competing goals would fight for resources. After looking at the baseline data, we found that, as predicted, the concern for earthquake safety decr

Contact: Jessica Martin
Washington University in St. Louis

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