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Earthquake workshop gives states a chance to plan for New Madrid disaster
ST. LOUIS, Mo. (Sept. 25, 2009) — More than 200 National Guard officials and representatives of civilian agencies from eight states attended the New Madrid Seismic Zone Workshop sponsored this week by the Missouri National Guard.

The event’s purpose was to coordinate the National Guard response to a catastrophic earthquake in the New Madrid Seismic Zone. Missouri adjutant general, Brig. Gen. Steven L. Danner, said the reason for the workshop — which drew participants from Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Indiana, and Arkansas — was preparedness.

“We want the citizens to have the knowledge that the National Guards of each of these states is prepared to act resolutely to assist them,” Danner said.

Since a large-scale earthquake would quickly overwhelm the response capabilities of any one state, the conference aimed to help participants identify and solve gaps in their capabilities, said Col. Mark A. McCarter, head of strategic plans, policy, joint training and exercises for the Missouri National Guard. For example, while one state might need additional troops, another might need additional helicopters or communications equipment. The idea, said McCarter, is to fill those gaps with assets from other states or from the Department of Defense.

“In Missouri for example, engineer units would be a significant challenge for us and we would face a significant logistics requirement,” he said.

Dr. David J. Rogers, a professor of geological engineering at the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla and a featured speaker at the workshop, said a magnitude 6.5 or greater earthquake in the New Madrid Seismic Zone would result in wide-spread destruction.

“You would have multiple bridge failures, the loss of buried pipelines carrying everything from oil to natural gas, high-voltage transmission lines and cell phone towers would collapse, water treatment plants along the rivers would be flooded,” Rogers said. “There would be significant damage to most structures over eight stories tall. The economic damage might take 10 years to recover from.”

In the event of such a disaster, Danner said the National Guard must be prepared to act quickly.

“You can go to a restaurant and wait 15 minutes for them to cook your steak or you can call ahead and have the plate handed to you when you walk in the door,” Danner told the attendees. “That’s what you’re doing here. You’re putting the pieces together so our citizens will get served right now with this plan.”

While the adopted plan focuses on providing assistance to the eight states within the New Madrid Seismic Zone, National Guards from several states outside the zone have made offers of manpower and equipment in the event of an earthquake.

“The level of cooperation between the various states has been tremendous,” said Danner. “We’ve had not only the eight states working closely together, but also we’ve had New Jersey, California and other states offer their response capabilities to us.”

Considering the earthquake response plan could directly affect the lives of millions of people, Danner pointed out that the National Guard is uniquely qualified to carry out such a plan.

“The National Guard has the trained personnel, the equipment and the command and control capabilities in order to execute this mission to help provide food, water, electricity — anything the citizens would be in need of during a major disaster such as an earthquake,” he said.

Overall, Danner was impressed with results of the workshop which will become an annual event.

“We always talk about how the National Guard is a family,” he said. “That’s what I saw at this conference. The cooperation here was just another example of how Guard members support each other. We also got to put faces with names and that makes a big difference when the call goes out. We know when we call another state they will care about assisting us and our citizens and they know we’ll do the same.”

Next year’s New Madrid Seismic Zone workshop will be hosted by the Arkansas National Guard.

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