By DAVE DELUCA - For the Star Beacon
When the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811 and 1812 leveled Missouri, the shock waves were strong enough to ring church bells in New York and break windows in Washington D.C. People in southern Ohio fled from their cabins. Closer to the quake’s epicenter, earth liquefied, sand volcanoes popped up and rivers appeared to run backwards. It was the first recorded magnitude 8.0 earthquake in North America, and to this day the strongest. Seismologists agree it could happen again. Some believe it could happen any time within the next 50 years.
In northeastern Ohio there are fault lines both in Lake Erie and inland. They’re an extension of the St. Lawrence range of fault lines, and not as active as the New Madrid fault lines. Still, seismic activity continues to occur here.
Tim Howson, Interim Director of Ashtabula County’s Emergency Management Agency, said preparedness is always the best course, regardless of what seems probable from data collection. The Ashtabula County Emergency Management Agency has a seismic monitoring station and its own seismograph.
“We do have seismic activity here, especially offshore of the Lake,” Howson said. “It’s more prevalent in Lake County but still worth paying attention to. The rule of thumb is that the further away you get from the last major event, the closer you get to the next.”
A magnitude 5.0 quake shook Perry on January 31, 1986. The nuclear power plant was completed but not yet online. Built to withstand a magnitude 6.0 earthquake, the NRC gave the nuke plant good marks for holding up during the 5.0. In a 2010 study, the NRC said the probability of an earthquake intense enough to cause core damage to Perry’s reactor was very low. Still there was some minor damage in Perry. Could a 5.0 be a portent of a 6.0 coming soon?
According to Mike Hansen, Coordinator of the Ohio Seismic Network, predicting ‘the big one’ in Ohio is difficult because records of earthquakes only go back to incidents a couple hundred years ago in Ohio history. Seismic events show recurrence patterns over a much longer period of time, even thousands of years.
“We have 29 seismic monitoring stations in Ohio,” Hansen said. “Ashtabula County’s Emergency Management Agency has one. Ashtabula County is in the Northeast Ohio Seismic Zone. We get an e-mail or phone call almost daily reporting rumblings, but most times they are something else besides an earth quake.”
To determine if it is really a quake, the Ohio Seismic Network triangulates data with three stations. Then, if it is a quake, the magnitude is determined.
The biggest earthquake so far in Ohio was a 5.5 magnitude in Anna, Ohio in Shelby County in March of 1937. Windows were broken, walls cracked and most of the chimneys in town were knocked over. According to the ODNR Seismological Survey, there have been quakes in northeast Ohio this year. One was a 2.2 offshore from Lake County near Perry on March 8. Another was a 2.7 on March 17 centered near Rock Creek.
There was a quake in Youngstown last year, and nine there in 2011, but these were these influenced by wastewater injection. Some scientists are uncertain if wastewater injection drilling, or ‘reverse fracking’ negatively influences seismic activity. They believe there is not enough evidence to support the claim.
Tim Howson of the Ashtabula County EMA said the agency tries to make local residents aware of earthquakes, and help them learn what they need to know about survival.
“Ashtabula County has seismic activity, so we promote preparedness,” he said. “We try to make sure building codes are up to standard. We encourage people to stock up on food, water and other emergency needs like ‘Go-Kits’ which can be picked up and used at a moment’s notice. If there was a big one there would be massive power and water outages and damage to roads, public buildings and the entire infrastructure.”
Howson said the agency assists in resource acquisition for first responders like police, EMS, firemen and others. First responders would be the ones involved in rescuing people from their homes and assisting in finding shelter. If ‘the big one’ were to occur, Ashtabula County’s EMA would follow the Ashtabula County’s Emergency Operations Plan, that encompasses all emergency responses to quakes, floods, storms and other natural disasters.
Ashtabula County’s Emergency Management Agency’s seismograph detects seismic activity from thousands of miles away. It recorded the Fukushima disaster of 2011 and the Quebec quake of 2010. Yet nothing can be done to truly predict earthquakes or to prevent them from occurring. If tectonic plates shift, there will be quakes. The ‘big one’ could happen in the next 50 years or many more years from now. All that can be done is to prepare for it.