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Meeting aims to get counties ready for next quake

February 11, 2009
On April 18, 2008, just before daylight, many Hoosiers awoke to find their beds — and entire houses — shaking. After a few seconds, most people realized what was happening, that they were feeling an earthquake, something not common in Indiana.

The earthquake was centered northwest of Evansville, near the small Illinois town of West Salem on the Wabash Valley Fault Zone, but several Midwestern states felt the rumble. The quake, which authorities measured at 5.4 on the Richter scale, could be across Indiana.

Last week, a meeting organized by Crawford County Emergency Management Agency Director Kent Barrow brought together officials from two counties, Crawford and Dubois, to create plans for dealing with a catastrophic earthquake. The meeting was led by David Perkins of Mission Ready Consulting Inc. from Brownsburg.

Several agencies were represented at the meeting, including Milltown Volunteer Fire Department, English Volunteer Fire Department, Town of Milltown, E-911, Crawford County EMA and the Red Cross, and Perkins went through a long list of questions, asking each county what they've done to prepare for an earthquake and what still needs to be done.

Worst-case scenarios were presented and officials were encouraged to come up with solutions that could be customized to fit their county and the equipment and personnel available to them.

There was talk of what would happen if the dam at Patoka Lake broke.

"You folks in Jasper would be fishing if that happened," Don Burnham of English said.

It was decided that the water would reach the Dubois County town in about 20 to 30 minutes.

"What makes everything so difficult immediately in a large earthquake is the isolation," Perkins said. "Usually, there are no roads that can be used, or bridges. And there needs to be a central location for incoming information."

"We have that in Crawford," Barrow said. "It's all in one building in English that includes the dispatching center."

Perkins went on to talk about an "instant action" plan and how the areas hit by the earthquake could be competing with other districts for resources.

Communication was next on the agenda, and it was concluded that the ability to communicate in some form or fashion is of the utmost importance. Perkins asked both counties how they would assess their various methods of communication that remain functional after a quake and aftershocks.

"Your 800 mz radios may be out," he said. "Cell phone and other towers may be down. You're likely to lose communication. You may have to turn to amateur radio operators and think about where to put them. You'll need some of these as a backup at communication centers. And transportation is just as important. You'll have to get people who have injuries to hospitals. The county highway departments can help with both communication and transportation."

A plan to create a communications board was discussed, and Perkins agreed that an EMA director "can't do it all by himself."

"This board would be really vital to this community," Richard White, E-911 supervisor for Crawford County, said. "Each agency needs to represented on the board: one firefighter, one sheriff's deputy, one EMS person, one E-911 dispatcher and so on."

The group then discussed evacuation of residents to shelters and the problems faced by those trying to get people out of danger.

"We've had some bad situations," Perkins said. "A lot of people won't leave without their pets, and most shelters won't allow people to take their pets. It's a big issue. Counties should have a plan for pets."

"And you have animals like horses and cows," someone offered.

"And some shelters may not survive," Perkins continued. "You'll need engineering support to inspect shelters and determine if they are safe. Many of the buildings that the county had planned to use as shelters may have been damaged."

It was agreed that shelters should have enough supplies on hand to last at least five days.

"If the situation goes into seven or eight days, that's a major problem. Can you imagine what it would be like to be in a shelter for several days without toilet paper? It's a small thing but an important one."

The group talked about back-up power and getting fuel for generators and emergency vehicles by taking over a service station. Search and rescue was also discussed and how to find people when numerous buildings have fallen. They talked about emergency preparedness in senior centers and schools, and how many people will be asked to wear several hats, to help wherever needed.

"And every county is different," Perkins said.

"You'll need a plan that works the way you do business."

Perkins and his partners will put together a plan for both Crawford and Dubois counties, and it should be sent out within a week or so.

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Barbara Shaw
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