Nonprofits, disaster organizations, scientists and academia come together to discuss how our community would respond to a major earthquake

(Standing, center) Christy Smith, National Consultant, United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) was one of the keynote speakers at the conference.

What would the ramifications be if an 8.0 earthquake along the New Madrid Fault struck Memphis and the Mid-South region today, and how would we spread the word about safety, food and shelter in the aftermath? Those were the big questions at the Bicentennial Commemoration of the New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811-1812 last Friday at the University of Memphis.

Seismologists and earthquake researchers say there is a 25% chance of an earthquake along the New Madrid Fault hitting our region by the year 2040.

Keynote speakers were Christy Smith, National Consultant for United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), Linda Daily, Director of 2-1-1 and Global Disaster Services for United Way Worldwide and Gary Patterson, Director, Center for Earthquake Research and Information (CERI), University of Memphis.

Conference attendees learned interesting facts about how the earthquakes of 1811-1812 caused drastic changes to the landscape of the Mid-South, and what disastrous effects could be expected if an 8.0 earthquake struck in the 21st century along the New Madrid fault.

To respond to a disaster like that, speakers agreed that it would be important for groups to work together, with communication being the key.

“It’s all about working together,” said Shelby Slater, VP, Mid-South Association of Contingency Planners and Emergency Preparedness Coordinator for the University of Memphis. “Whether it is an emergency or catastrophic situation, it takes people working together to get things done. In this room today, there is an attitude and underlying theme of working together. That is what will make us successful in the city, county, state, even across the country. Everything falls back on working together and that has the natural tendency to determine how successful we are. You as individuals stand collectively to make our community a better place to live.”

Smith talked about disaster relief and how people should care about how the community would look post-disaster.

“After a disaster, everyone has a part to play – not just social services,” she said. “The greatest blessings come from everyday moments when we get to be the visible presence of God’s love to someone in need.”

She added that every community group needs to be represented in a time of disaster. She cited UMCOR as a “church on feet” ready to help any time disaster strikes.

Linda Daily gave the conference more insight on United Way’s 2-1-1 service and spoke about the need for strengthening lines of communication before a disaster strikes.

Linda Daily

“Communications is a complex world and it can be a fragile thing, oftentimes because of misinterpretations,” she said.

“Every day, 2-1-1 professionals in every state hear from people and their challenging needs for education, information and aid during disasters. When a disaster – like an earthquake – hits, we realize how much more important communication is.”

Daily added that during a disaster, the first thing people need is accurate, timely information that is delivered in a sensitive manner.

“This is not just true for information and referral programs such as 2-1-1, it is true for all organizations,” Daily said. (See more comments from Daily in yesterday’s article here.)

Gary Patterson

Gary Patterson, Director of Outreach and Education at the Center for Earthquake Research & Information at the University of Memphis, observed that earthquakes similar to the quakes of 1811-12 would impact our area today in vastly different ways than they did 200 years ago.

“The population has grown incredibly in this area since the last large earthquakes occurred. And socially vulnerable communities exist in places where they did not 200 years ago,” Patterson said.

UPDATE: Read The Commercial Appeal’s coverage of the conference here.

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