Mo. National Guard Trains in Earthquake Preparedness

October 16, 2007

The Missouri National Guard spent the weekend engaged in Operation Cracked Earth, training exercises to test communication abilities in the event that there is a major earthquake in the New Madrid fault zone.

The New Madrid fault is a network of deep cracks in the earth’s surface from southern Illinois to northeastern Arkansas. It produces hundreds of small quakes a year, most too weak to be noticed without scientific equipment.

But in 1811 and 1812, it produced a series of big earthquakes estimated at magnitude 7.0 or greater, and officials know a similar quake today would cause extensive damage.

Many of the exercises began Friday and ended Sunday at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis County, Poplar Bluff and Jefferson City.

“Part of what we’re doing today is to get players together to revise the plan, confirm our capabilities and look at any shortcomings,” said Col. Paul Rusinko, the acting Task Force Commander of the 35th Engineer Brigade at Fort Leonard Wood.

“If a 6.5 or greater earthquake would hit in Missouri, both the Army and the Air National Guard would work together to support civil authorities,” he said. “The state felt it was important to test communication strategies because the Guard will be one of the first military responders.”

The training was part of the National Guard’s duties to act as civilian soldiers.

Capt. Kelly Messerly of the 35th Engineer Brigade at Fort Leonard Wood said the communication equipment soldiers trained with is key to ensuring they can effectively communicate during times of disasters.

The use of mobile satellite communications centers allowed them to perform several communication functions, including video conferencing using laptop computers. They also have generators to allow access to communication capabilities if there is a power outage.

“It’s an extraordinary asset to have this equipment,” said Rusinko, because it will cut down on the time needed to communicate vital information during times of disaster.

The equipment also can be used to respond to other disasters. The equipment is portable, so the Guard can bring it to almost any site.

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