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WIU Professors Explain Impact of Updated U.S. Seismic Hazard Maps

July 31, 2014

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MACOMB, IL – With the recent update of the national seismic hazard maps by the U.S. Geological Survey, two Western Illinois University faculty are contemplating how the changes will impact research and preparedness.

On July 17, the updated maps were released to the public, showing that Illinois is among 16 states at the highest risk for earthquakes. This marks the first time the maps have been updated since 2008, and researchers took into consideration information from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami off the Japanese coast and a 2011 Virginia temblor.

WIU Geology Professor Leslie Melim said the research from the recent activity increases the incentive to better define the hazards from earthquakes.

"The U.S. is currently building the first nuclear power plants since the 1980s," Melim said. "The engineers need the best estimates possible to design safe power plants."

Melim said the new map defines the maximum expected ground motion based on a combination of earthquake history. In Illinois, that is mainly the 1811-1812 New Madrid Earthquakes in Missouri.

"As we learn more about faults and have more earthquakes, the map will need to be updated," she said.

Information from the new map and the process used for its creation will be included in Melim's lectures for her Geology 110 courses. Her classes also cover earthquake hazards and their impact on building codes. The updated seismic map is used for building codes and insurance purposes.

"This map better defines the areas that are at risk," Melim said. "The greatest impact is really in engineering for new buildings. The greater hazards in southern Illinois should mean stronger building codes. It also means buildings in 'safer' areas can be built to lesser standards. For example, homes in earthquake areas must be bolted to the foundation and the foundation needs to be better attached to the earth underneath."

WIU Health Sciences Assistant Professor Heriberto Urby said the new map contains important information that will be passed along to students in WIU's classrooms.

"The new seismic map and additional research improves our perception of how the simulation of the very intense shaking of an earthquake might emulate what is felt during an actualized event," he said. "The new information is critical for our students to learn, and there will certainly be information about the new maps and the significant research that is and continues to be done."

Urby has done extensive research and teaching on how people can prepare for an earthquake. He said one of the easiest and most important preparation steps is to assemble an emergency kit of supplies and provisions to be used in case of a natural disaster.

"Citizens and students should engage in training, drills, tabletop and other exercises, evacuation planning and other preparedness activities to become more adept and knowledgeable to be ready in the event an earthquake occurs," Urby said. "Since Illinois is one of the states that could experience an earthquake, and perhaps even is at risk of increased shaking during an earthquake, according to the new seismic
maps and studies, it is indispensable that everyone learns what to do to prepare for such a disaster."

Urby said students in WIU's emergency management courses are taught a comprehensive, all phases approach, such as mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery in his course Preparedness and Response. The class teaches students about warnings, training, exercises, drills, how to educate the community and what to do in the event of an earthquake. They also learn how to prepare disaster plans, after-action-reports and evacuation planning.

"Students are also taught about bureaucracy, intergovernmental relations, the National Incident Management System (includes Incident Command), Emergency Management Assistance Compacts (EMACs) and other important topics of discussion and practice so they are prepared to engage as professional emergency managers and to lead in times of crises," Urby said. "Participating in an emergency operations center, as an incident commander, or as a member of a local planning committee, are just some of the few tasks for which our students are well prepared."

For more information on how to better prepare in event of an earthquake, visit or for more information about the new maps or to download the total report, visit

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