Friday, February 08, 2013


Leader staff writer

The nearly 50 participants in Thursday’s earthquake drill at the Lonoke County Department of Emergency Management learned that the amount of resources needed during and after disasters can be overwhelming.

Drill participants were told a 9:30 a.m. 6.0-magnitude earthquake just north of Marked Tree had slightly damaged five miles of Lewisburg Road in Austin and county residents felt it as if it were a mild quake. A 6.0-magnitude earthquake would cause bells to ring and tall objects to topple.

The emergency operation center was up and running at 10 a.m. for the earthquake response exercise.

The drill was held at the department, 200 N. Center St. in Lonoke. It was part of the national level exercise for earthquake preparedness that occurs every two years.

According to Kathy Zasimovich, the county’s emergency services coordinator, the goal of the drill is to impress upon people the importance of being prepared for a disaster, like an earthquake. Being prepared means knowing what resources will be there to help, she said.

Zasimovich explained that Lonoke County has mutual aid agreements with all counties surrounding its borders. She said if there is a resource that the county or its mutual aid partners do not have or cannot supply, her department would coordinate with the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management to obtain that resource.

One of the speakers at Thursday’s drill was David Johnston of the Arkansas Geological Survey. As he loaded his PowerPoint presentation, Zasimovich asked if anyone in the room had experienced an earthquake firsthand. She said she was a fifth-grader in Washington state when one struck as she was walking outside.

Zasimovich said, “The roads rolled. Talk about being scary.”

Thursday’s fake quake was in the New Madrid fault system, which extends 120 miles southward from Charleston, Mo., and Cairo, Ill., following I-55 to Blytheville and Marked Tree. It crosses five state lines and cuts across the Mississippi River in three places and the Ohio River in two places.

Johnston said the New Madrid zone is one of the most hazardous earthquake areas in the United States. He said, “It’s the New Madrid that is our primary concern in Arkansas.”

The last catastrophic seismic event in Arkansas occurred in 1811 and 1812 when three earthquakes with magnitudes between 7.4 and 8.0 occurred. At those magnitudes, structures are damaged or collapse. There is a 7 to 10 percent chance that will happen again in the next 50 years, Johnston said.

There is a 25 to 40 percent chance that Arkansas will experience an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.0 or greater.

The 1811 and 1812 earthquakes struck on Dec. 16, 1811, Jan. 23, 1812, and Feb. 7, 1812. Johnston said, “The shaking continued for months.”

According to him, there were 97 earthquakes in Arkansas last year. Of those, people only felt 15. As of Feb. 6, there had been four earthquakes this year. People only felt one of them.

Johnston added that even though places east of the Rocky Mountains, like Arkansas, have fewer earthquakes, the earthquakes are felt over a broader area because the soil is warm, soft and broken up rather than hard and cold.

Although earthquakes are usually along fault lines like the New Madrid, where tectonic plates meet, they can happen in the middle of a plate too. Those are called intraplate quakes, he said.

Johnston described how two of the four types of seismic waves help professionals give the public an early warning that an earthquake is coming.

A p-wave arrives in an area first and an s-wave arrives next, he explained. Johnston said the delay between the two allows people to prepare for an earthquake, even if the warning can be issued only 15 to 20 seconds before the earthquake occurs.

For example, he said, a train traveling at 100 mph could slow down to 40 mph before the quake strikes. That could save lives and prevent more extensive damage, Johnston said.

Johnston added that in 2010, Gov. Mike Beebe appropriated funds for six permanent seismic activity-monitoring stations. Those stations will help professionals issue those early warnings, determine the magnitude of the earthquake and find out more information about what happened.

Earthquakes can cause riverbanks to collapse, land to subside, landslides and liquefaction, he said.

Liquefaction, which is usually caused by an earthquake of magnitude 6 or higher, is when shallow water-saturated sandy soils turn to liquid. The soil loses its bearing strength and behaves like a viscous liquid.

Liquefaction can cause buildings to sink into the ground or tilt, slope failures, surface subsidence, ground cracking and sand blows.

For liquefaction to happen the sand normally must be loose and less than 30-feet below the ground surface, although it has happened to soil that was 50 feet below the surface, Johnston said. Sand blows are formed when the sand erupts to the ground surface through fissures.

But the possibility of that happening in Lonoke County is slim because ground water is much deeper. That is because agricultural and other uses have depleted the ground water that was close to the surface.

Another resource the county can rely on is the Central Arkansas Task Force 1 Urban Search and Rescue. Task force leader Andy Traffenstadt said urban search and rescue is an area of emergency response the state once needed to improve.

His team is helping officials do that.

Traffenstadt explained that the term “urban” doesn’t just apply to a densely populated area. He said, “It’s anywhere that has a masonry building.”

Traffenstadt said the 100-member task force was started two years ago and has deployed twice. On May 16, 2011, the team responded to Morrilton when a building collapsed and one person was killed.

On Jan. 13, 2012, the team helped retrieve the body of Jacques Parker, 56, of Carlisle when he fell into a grain bin on Miller Road in Lonoke County.

The members of the task force are firefighters from nine departments because, Traffenstadt said, he didn’t want to leave any one department shorthanded.

Traffenstadt said task force members with more advanced training could be assembled in two hours while the entire force would be ready in four hours.

“There is a tremendous amount of training involved,” he said about all of the members. The group is also self-supporting when they arrive at an emergency, Traffenstadt added.

John Huett of the Lonoke County Swift Water Rescue also spoke. He told drill participants the role of his team is, “If anybody gets into any kind of flooding incident our task is to go there and pick them up out of the water.”

Adrian Clark of the Arkansas Geographic Information Office shared a video with the drill participants. The video was about the Geospatial Revolution Project, “an integrated public service media and outreach initiative about the world of digital mapping and how it is changing the way we think, behave and interact,” according to the project’s website at

Clark then used a program to show how many houses were within a half-mile of Lewisburg Road. The program, supplemented by information from the county assessor’s office, also told him the value of the houses. “It’s a great big world out there with a lot of great tools,” Clark emphasized.

Carlisle Police Chief Eric Frank, who serves as the Lions Club International Regional Disaster director, said the club could provide up to $20,000 within 24 hours of an earthquake. The money would be used to buy immediate necessities like blankets.

Frank said the club could contribute more money within 72 hours of a disaster.

Charles Ray, coordinator of Baptist’s U.S. Disaster Response, said what his group does to provide emotional support, especially for first responders.

Ray said his is one of 53 nonprofits in the National Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters. He explained, “A VOAD member is not bound by bureaucracy. VOAD becomes one of the most powerful tools you’ll have in the county (during a disaster).

Ray continued, “We can come in and help put you back together in a crisis. That’s what we’re supposed to do. And it’s free, of course.”

He added, “You need to be debriefed and helped if you are in the field for an hour or more.”

Ray explained that first responders might also have a difficult time giving 100 percent to their jobs because they could be personally impacted by the disaster.

He described how first responders who were helping in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina had lost family members and their homes to the storm.

“(Victims) hit a wall later. (first responders) hit a wall much quicker. If you add that their family might be affected, that’s a dynamite situation. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for help,” Ray said.

Another important aspect of emergency response is communications. Case Irwin of Motorola said the company would know immediately if its towers are damaged. “We’ll do whatever it takes to restore your communications at any time, “ he said.

During an emergency like an earthquake, Lonoke County would rely on amateur radio, a mobile satellite radio, cell phones and landline phones.Zasimovich said, “If you don’t have a backup system to communicate, you’re in trouble.”

Kathy Wright, the director of the state’s Homeland Security Grants Program, spoke last. she said the equipment that would be used after a terroristic attack would also be used after a natural disaster, like an earthquake.

But, Wright said, “the money isn’t what it used to be.”

That means her budget has to maintain existing programs instead of starting new programs.

Increased regulations require those programs be able to send resources nationwide and engage in multi-jurisdictional collaboration. Lonoke County demonstrated its ability to do just that with the drill.