Japan Quake Highlights Needs for Indiana Training

April 4, 2011

Indiana’s proximity to two seismic zones and the recent devastating earthquake in Japan are spurring interest in efforts to prepare for what some scientists say is an inevitable temblor.

Indiana will participate in the April 19 Great Central U.S. ShakeOut, an awareness and training program that is similar to annual tornado-preparedness drills and involves 11 Midwest states. Emergency management and response teams will participate in another training program at the Muscatatuck Urban Training Complex near Butlerville in May to simulate a “catastrophic” earthquake in the Midwest.

But a Purdue University professor says state and local officials need to take steps to establish and enforce more stringent building codes to protect against damage and injuries from an earthquake.

“How to build homes and structures that can withstand a particular magnitude earthquake should be at the forefront of what we are doing,” Professor Abdul-Akeem Sadiq told The Indianapolis Star. “That is the first line of defense.”

The Central United States Earthquake Consortium says the central United States has a 25 percent to 40 percent probability for an earthquake of 6.0 magnitude or greater in any 50-year span. The center says an earthquake of 7 to 8 magnitude — well below the 9.0 registered in Japan — could result in great loss of life and property damage in the billions.

But many in the Midwest lack the awareness of earthquakes that residents on the West Coast and abroad have.

Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Emily Norcross said Indiana has some seismic requirements in state building codes, but they vary based on the use of a building, its location and the materials used in construction.

About 12 counties, most in the southwestern portion of the state, have additional construction requirements that address natural disasters such as earthquakes, said Carlie Hopper, regulatory affairs director for the Indiana Builders Association.

A statewide requirement, however, could be hard to impose because of difficulties setting standards for what magnitude of quake buildings should be built to withstand and how to justify the added costs of such construction, Hopper and Sadiq said.

“Any time you talk about more stringent requirements, that comes with increased costs,” Hopper said.

Without such standards, residents can best prepare by participating in training programs such as those being offered this spring, Norcross aid.

“The objective is not to create fear,” Norcross said. “The idea is to raise awareness that there is a high probability of a significant quake in the future and to make sure people start thinking about being prepared for when that happens.”

The training will discuss how to respond in an earthquake, including seeking shelter under a sturdy desk or table, she said.

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