Earthquake!

Many people in the Winston-Salem area felt Tuesday’s “tremor”, epicentered in Mineral, Virginia. (I was in a car & thought there were some suspiciously high winds buffeting us! Another librarian thought it was a practical joke by a coworker.) Fortunately, the earthquake – while dramatic enough for some of us – wasn’t as severe, as earthquakes go. The radio announcer who confirmed for us that we’d just experienced an earthquake mentioned the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the federal agency that identifies and measures earthquakes (among other things). That set me to thinking about all of the federal governmental resources available regarding earthquakes and similar events.

With all of the links people all over the Eastern seaboard were posting on Facebook & Twitter, the USGS site got quickly overloaded. (In fact, in some places, people may have seen tweets and posts before they felt the earthquake!) Official scientific information on the event is displayed at the USGS site shortly after an event. The agency even collects information from anyone who wants to report it, at “Did You Feel It?”, where you can also search recent events. There’s also an email or text-message warning system you can sign up for to get notifications of earthquakes.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has received a lot of attention – some positive, some negative – particularly since Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath in 2005. In addition to cleaning up from disasters, they are charged with preparing the country and its citizens in advance of likely events. Earthquakes, floods, terrorist attacks, volcanos and hurricanes all fall within FEMA’s purview.

Related to FEMA’s preparations, the Congressional Research Services has reported on early warning systems for earthquakes and tsunamis. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission also has standards and procedures in place in the event of an emergency, whether natural or otherwise. Even federally leased or owned buildings are subject to are federal standards – identified in 41 CFR § 102-80.45 (2010) – regarding the minimum seismic safety standards. This part refers to the Interagency Committee on Seismic Safety in Construction (ICSSC), which is responsible to FEMA per an executive order issued under President George W. Bush.

Obviously the media tends to be all over stories like an East Coast earthquake, but it’s important to remember that there are places to go to find information about small earthquakes and quakes in places where one might expect them, as well. That’s the benefit of government agencies like USGS and FEMA: it’s their job to make this kind of information available to the public. Take advantage of it (and stay prepared)!

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