TERRE HAUTE —
At 9:55 a.m. Thursday, Indiana State Fire Marshal Jim Greeson dropped to the floor, took cover under a table and held on to a table leg during an earthquake drill at DeVaney Elementary School.
He had been speaking to Andrew Wiencken’s fifth-grade class, and as part of the drill students crawled under their desks.
Greeson joined students and staff at DeVaney to participate in the 2013 Great Central U.S. ShakeOut, an annual earthquake drill. He spoke to students in Wiencken’s classroom about how to prepare for an earthquake as well as the earthquake risk in Indiana.
Nine states participated in the third Shakeout, held Thursday to mark an anniversary of the 1812 New Madrid earthquakes.
Terre Haute and southwestern Indiana are at risk of earthquakes because of proximity to the New Madrid Seismic Zone and the Wabash Valley Fault system, Greeson said.
He told students that soil and bedrock in the Midwest are softer than on the West Coast. In an earthquake, that softer bedrock in the Midwest can “become like water,” called liquefaction, Greeson said. Shockwaves can travel farther.
“That’s why an earthquake here can cover such a large area and has the potential of doing a lot of damage,” he said.
According to the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, “Damage from an earthquake would be more widespread and more severe than an earthquake on the West Coast of similar magnitude.”
Greeson talked about the importance of having an emergency disaster kit, one that could last 72 hours. It should include basic items such as water, food, a flashlight, battery-powered radio and a first-aid kit.
Also, every home should have a weather radio, which would alert residents to weather emergencies in the middle of the night, he said.
“These are some things you can talk to your parents about,” Greeson said.
About five years ago, an earthquake that measured 5.2 in magnitude could be felt in Indiana, he said. “I thought it was a train shaking our house,” said Greeson, who lives on the northeast side of Indianapolis.
He also talked about the New Madrid earthquakes that happened about 200 years ago that caused churchbells to ring in Boston and caused the Mississippi to flow backward for a while. “They were very powerful,” he said.
He didn’t limit the discussion to earthquakes.
“Do you guys all have a working smoke alarm in your house? Do you check the battery?” he asked. A working smoke alarm in the event of a fire “will save your lives,” he said.
He told them to have their parents check the batteries in their smoke alarms at home.
In the event of a fire, he told them to stay low if there is smoke to prevent them from breathing toxic fumes.
He also recommended that their homes have carbon monoxide detectors.
One of the fifth-graders, Lauren Zeck, said she learned from the state fire marshal that “it’s important to be prepared for any natural disaster that happens.”
She also learned about all the things that should be included in a disaster kit.
Fifth-grader Charlie Aubin said, “I really didn’t know you needed a kit for natural disasters.” Now he knows they are needed because there could be power outages that last a long time.
Aubin said he planned to talk to his parents about what he learned.
Tribune-Star reporter Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or firstname.lastname@example.org.