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Living on the Fault

New Madrid Quakes Bicentennial Reminds Everyone we live near a Fault

It was December 1811 and without warning, the ground began to shake along a stretch of land now called the New Madrid Seismic Zone, just west of Memphis, TN and into southern Illinois.

During the cold winter months of December, January and February, three “mega quakes” shook the earth with such force that it caused church bells to ring in New England, side walks to crack in Boston, destroyed countless buildings, and was said to cause the Mississippi River to alter its course. The shaking was felt across the United States, to the Gulf of Mexico and into Canada.  Hundreds of aftershocks were reported into 1812. Scientists tell us these quakes would have measured at least a 7 or 8 magnitude on the Richter scale. 

Two hundred years later, in 2011, we honor the anniversary of the “Great 1811 – 1812 New Madrid Quakes” that forever changed our landscape.  This bicentennial provides a unique opportunity to remind us of our vulnerability to earthquakes and to stay prepared.  The month of February was Earthquake Awareness Month. It kicked off the bicentennial with conferences, workshops, public outreach events, and multi-state earthquake exercises.  

We don’t know when the next “big one” will occur.  Situated in the New Madrid Seismic Zone, Shelby County is particularly vulnerable to earthquakes. Scientists tell us it is not a matter of if, but when.  However, if we are prepared, the emergency agencies as well as our citizens, we will survive and get back to normal much quicker. 

The Shelby County Office of Preparedness will participate in the National Level Exercise later this year in May. 


How to stay safe before, during, and after an earthquake:


Secure your Home:

           Identify hazards in the home.

           Create a clear path out of each room

           Fasten shelves to the walls

           Place large, heavy objects on lower shelves

           Store breakables in closed cabinets with latches

           Hang heavy items away from beds or couches

           Secure water heater by strapping it to the wall studs


Designate a Safe Place: Identify a “safe place” indoors and outdoors such as:

           a heavy desk or table to crouch under

           against an inside wall

           away from glass, windows or heavy furniture

           an open place away from buildings, trees, and electrical wiring


Disaster Kit: Create a disaster kit that will sustain you and your pets for seven days to include:

           Flashlight and batteries

           Bottled water

           Non-perishable food

           Essential medications


           NOAA Weather radio with batteries


           Sanitation items

           Clothing and boots

           First aid kit

           Metal whistle


Develop an Emergency Communications Plan

           Decide ahead of time where you will meet family members if separated by disaster events

           Designate out of town relative to be the “contact” everyone will call if separated


Educate your family and employees:

           Teach children how to call 911

           Take the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training


Take the month of February to learn your risks of earthquakes and how to prepare for them.  Your preparedness now may save your life and reduce the impact of an earthquake.



           Shelby County Office of Preparedness web site:

           Ready Shelby web site:

           Ready web site:

           Citizen Corps web site:

           Federal Emergency Management Agency web site:* 5555 Tylertown Avenue * Bartlett, Tennessee 38134 * Phone: (901) 606-3836 Fax: (901) 248-0681 Email

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