DisastersLast year’s east coast earthquake has the region preparing for another one

Published 29 August 2012

Last year an earthquake that was centered in Virginia shook up the entire east coast, surprising everyone; it did not result in any deaths and was considered relatively light compared to many tremors on the West Coast, but it was bad enough to force some states to prepare themselves in case of another quake

Map showing the range of shock waves from the epicenter // Source: amerikaliturk.com

Last year an earthquake that was centered in Virginia shook up the entire east coast, surprising everyone. It did not result in any deaths and was considered relatively light compared to many tremors on the West Coast, but it was bad enough to force some states to prepare themselves in case of another quake.

At Louisa County Schools in central Virginia, earthquake drills are now the norm.

“It’s the new normal,” Superintendent Deborah Pettit told the Washington Post of the earthquake drills. “It’s become a normal part of the school routine and safety.”

Last year’s quake caused more than $200 million in damages, including several cracks in the Washington Monument.

Earthquake veterans on the West Coast laughed off the 5.8 magnitude earthquake, but it did change the way officials on the East Coast prepare for the potential of another earthquake.

The Washington Post reports that emergency response teams are now making plans to add earthquakes to the list that includes hurricanes, tornadoes, snowstorms and flooding. A few states have enacted laws specifically related to earthquakes and the damage they can cause. One significant sign that people have learned from the earthquake is a spike in insurance coverage for quake damage.

The quake was centered about four miles beneath the town of Mineral, Virginia, but was felt as far south as Georgia and far north as New England. As a result of the quake, the Washington Monument has been closed indefinitely and the National Park Service is just now finalizing plans to repair it.

The repairs are expected to cost around $15 million and will require massive scaffolding which will keep the monument closed until at least 2014.

The North Anna Power Station in Virginia became the first operating U.S. nuclear power plant to be shut down due to an earthquake. Dominion Virginia Power put 110,000 man hours and more than $21 million of inspections testing and evaluation of the power station since the quake. On 1 November 2011, the twin 1,800-megawatt reactors were restarted

Now scientists are trying to determine whether the quake was a one-time event or a sign of things to come.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), much of central Virginia has been designated an elevated seismic hazard for decades, but last year’s quake was the largest to ever occur in the zone.

J. Wright Horton of the USGS is excited about the prospect of finding out whether this will happen again.

“Scientists would like to know if this earthquake was Virginia’s ‘Big One,’” Horton told the Post.

Either way the quake scared several jurisdictions into revising their plans to make sure they are ready in case of another quake.

“We learned a lot, that’s for sure,” Laura Southard, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management told the Post

In total 6,400 Virginia homeowners and renters in nine localities were given $16.5 million from FEMA due to the damage cause by the earthquake.

“It’s fair to say that no one thought we’d have an earthquake.” said Christopher Geldart, director of the D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency.

The state of Maryland held its first emergency quake exercise in April. The state did not sustain any major damage when the quake hit, but Edward McDonough, a spokesman for the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, told the Post: “It definitely shook us up, pardon the pun.”

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