SIKESTON -- After seeing the devastation caused on the Gulf Coast by hurricanes Katrina and Rita, what can we expect from an earthquake here in Sikeston?
On Tuesday, a town hall meeting organized by Sikeston city officials is scheduled from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Clinton Building to address that question.
"Our biggest threat for a real major disaster would be an earthquake - it's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when it occurs," said Tom Bridger, emergency management coordinator for the city of Sikeston. "It is something that's going to effect a large, large area - much larger than Hurricane Katrina or Rita or even the earthquakes out in California."
Bridger pointed out that according to historical reports, bells rang on the East Coast during the earthquakes of 1811-1812.
Many people prepared for an earthquake following Ivan Browning's prediction in 1990 that a major quake was imminent but haven't done much to update those efforts.
"Throughout the years since then, people have become lax," Bridger said. "But we are still in an active seismic zone. I get earthquake notifications pretty much on a daily basis from the University of Memphis. There are earthquakes that are happening all the time. Most of them are just small enough that we don't feel them."
Southeast Missouri residents aren't the only ones that need reminding, however.
"Earthquake Awareness Week is coming up," Bridger noted. A statewide observance will be Feb. 3-8. "As part of that, the state of Missouri is using our town hall meeting as a kick-off for that event."
"Citizens who understand the earthquake hazard will be better prepared to protect their families and their property if a major earthquake occurs in Southeast Missouri," said Ronald M. Reynolds, director for the State Emergency Management Agency, in a recent news release about the event. "Gov. Matt Blunt encourages all residents to actively prepare for any type of disaster - earthquake, flooding or tornadoes."
During Sikeston's town hall meeting, panel members will discuss the New Madrid seismic zone, emergency planning efforts, recent earthquakes and general earthquake preparedness.
"This is concentrated on basic information - what to expect in the event of an emergency such as an earthquake and what to expect from local, state and federal agencies," Bridger said. "This is just to help the citizens of Sikeston be prepared."
Dr. Steve Horton, research scientist at the Center for Earthquake Research and Information at the University of Memphis, will be the keynote speaker. "He will give an overview of the earthquake hazard," Bridger said. "Basically like an 'Earthquake 101.' Dr. Horton's presentation will probably be about 45 minutes long."
Horton will then be part of a panel that will field questions from the public for another 45 minutes.
Other panelists will include: Sue Evers of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Region 7 in Kansas City, Mo.; Jim Palmer, geologist for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Division of Geology and Land Survey; Gen. King Sidwell, adjutant general for the Missouri National Guard; Mark Winkler, coordinator for SEMA's Area E; Bridger; and Drew Juden, director of the Sikeston Department of Public Safety. Juden was also recently appointed to the Missouri Seismic Commission by the governor.
Jim Wilkinson, executive director for the Central Earthquake Consortium, will serve as the panel moderator.
"We have invitations out for Jo Ann Emerson's office, Sen. Jim Talent's office and Sen. Kit Bond's office," Bridger said.
Other officials from the area are expected to attend as well.
"Also at this meeting, all the agencies that are coming are bringing handouts on earthquakes - how to prepare, what to do before, during and after an earthquake, how to prepare your home," Bridger said.
The meeting will be videotaped and aired on the school cable access channel, according to Bridger, "so those who are not able to attend can review the information. ... We're trying to get the public awareness out there."