Are we ready for a 7.1-magnitude earthquake?

Are we ready for a 7.1-magnitude earthquake?

Jonathan Price, state geologist and director of the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology at the University of Nevada, Reno, presented an earthquake disaster scenario and discussed public preparedness at the Nevada Vigilant Guard '08 Exercise news conference. The briefing was held at the State Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in Carson City June 12.

More than 2,000 participants are taking part in an eight-day, simulated 7.1-magnitude earthquake scenario that hypothetically hit at 6 a.m. June 12 along the Mount Rose fault zone in Reno.

"The probability of such an earthquake occurring is significant, but it is low enough that we can take action now to be better prepared," Price said. "This is the time to plan for eventualities."

Vigilant Guard '08 is a full-scale emergency preparedness exercise that tests, sharpens and evaluates the skills, expertise and coordination of local, state and federal civilian response agencies and National Guard units from Nevada, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Utah, Washington state and the U.S. territory of Guam. The Nevada Bureau of Mines Geology has assisted the state with scenario development.

Area residents can expect a heavier-than-normal military and a large "first-responder" presence through June 19, both in air and on the road.

The preparedness exercises will test and train participants' skills in victim recovery, triage, mobile field hospital setup, ground and helicopter evacuation, search and rescue, mass sheltering for displaced victims and pets, emergency food distribution, hazardous chemical-spill response, and information gathering. Participants will also assess damage to buildings, roads, dams, pipelines and other infrastructure.

"Vigilant Guard exercises are a time to test the capabilities of the state and to see how well we can mobilize, respond, cover and recover from a catastrophic event, whether that be a wildfire, flood, airplane crash, terrorist event or earthquake," said Frank Siracusa, chief of the state division of emergency management. "We owe it to the general public to be prepared."

Officials at the University's Emergency Operations Center will participate in two exercises: a June 15 test of the Reverse 911 system and a June 19 activation of the campus' emergency operations from 8:30 a.m. until 4 p.m.

Based on the Federal Emergency Management Agency's loss-estimation computer model, HAZUS, Price discussed the damage associated with a hypothetical 7.1-magnitude earthquake. There would be $3 to $11 billion in economic loss, major damage to 5,000 to 20,000 buildings, 3,600 people needing public shelter, 300 to 1,400 people needing hospital care, and 110 to 400 fatalities.

Price said that the probability of an earthquake of magnitude 7.0 occurring within 31 miles of Reno or Carson City within the next 50 years is between 12 and 15 percent. For an earthquake of magnitude 6.0, the probability increases to between 65 and 70 percent within the next 50 years.

"We can take immediate and long-term actions to reduce the risks from hazards," he said.

Such actions, he mentioned, include practicing response and recovery plans and procedures like the Vigilant Guard exercises, strapping water heaters to the walls and removing large objects that could fall and injure someone, adopting the latest seismic provisions for building codes and improving the identification of areas prone to major hazards including fault ruptures, landslides, and rockfalls.

A free earthquake preparedness guide, "Living With Earthquakes in Nevada," can help people prepare at work or at home for the possibility of an earthquake.

After the weeklong Vigilant Guard exercises, officials will evaluate the event's success and make recommendations for future exercises.

The federal government requires states to conduct Vigilant Guard exercises and provides funding through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for training. Nevada's Vigilant Guard exercises, the 11th to be staged across the country since the program's founding in 2005, received a federal allocation of $1.5 million for National Guard and Division of Emergency Management mobilization.

Panel speakers, along with Price and Siracusa, were: Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons, Maj. Gen. and commander of the Nevada National Guard Cynthia Kirkland, and Dan Burns, public information officer for the state Department of Public Safety and director of the Nevada Joint Information Center.

For contact information for the local Emergency Operations Center and to learn about the staging of specific exercises, go to Vigilant Guard '08.

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