The 8.8 magnitude earthquake that hit offshore of Maule on February 27, 2010 did major damage to
Chile and sent off a tsunami across the Pacific Basin. This latest major seismic event comes on the
heels of the magnitude 7.0 earthquake that devastated Haiti. While the death toll in Chile is no where
near that of Haiti, the infrastructure damage is substantial.
Living in the Northeast region of the US, I rarely think about earthquakes occurring here; to be quite
frank, I fallen into the mindset that domestic earthquakes are restricted to California. The Maule quake
reminded me that New Jersey had a small 2.6 magnitude earthquake on February 21, 2010. The recent
local quake combined with this massive quake in Chile gave me pause to reflect on how well we are
prepared to deal with a massive earthquake.
I went to the U.S. Geological Survey website to do some research. On February 21, 2010 not only was
there a 2.6 magnitude quake in New Jersey, the Geological Survey recorded similar magnitude events
in New Mexico, 4 in California, and 2 in the Puerto Rico area. Additionally, in the last week or so the US
Geological Survey has recorded earthquakes in Nevada, Idaho, the Alaskan Peninsula, the Virgin
Islands and more in California. I was quite surprised to see how frequent earthquakes occur.
The first question that came to mind is; could a major earthquake happen here? I have no expertise on
earthquakes but I suspect if we can have a 2.6 magnitude quake we could indeed get a major event.
In this region we have had disastrous events. The September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the World
Trade Center caused previously unimaginable devastation. The losses in human life were
tremendous. The bravery of the first responders; the FDNY, the NYPD, the Port Authority Police, EMS
and others were exemplary. Their sacrifices and services to the City of New York on that day and the
aftermath should never be forgotten.
After the attacks, the City did review the coordination and response to the catastrophe and instituted
changes to better respond to future emergencies. Communications improvements were made, diverse
command centers set up and periodic disaster drills scheduled. Many other local governments
followed suit. I believe that these efforts have paid off and the rescue on January 15, 2009 of the
passengers of a US Airways flight in the Hudson River supports that view. As you probably recall,
Captain Chesley Sullenberger was able to make an emergency landing in the Hudson River. The
emergency response from civilians, the NYPD and the NYFD was immediate and well coordinated.
Every person on board the flight was rescued.
Earthquakes, terrorist attacks, and emergency landings are all spontaneous events. If we don’t have a
contingency plan in place prior to the event there really is no planned response.
On the downside of responses to recent disasters is Hurricane Katrina. The Federal, State and Local
governments did have some time to prepare for this event. The coordination of resources and the
execution of a disaster plan were indeed poor. The evacuation was not executed properly, police
officers abandoned their jobs. Massive amounts of people were left without food and water. A good deal
of the personal and equipment of the Louisiana National Guard was overseas. The emergency
response was slow and inadequate and in its aftermath there was plenty of finger pointing.
Have we as a Nation implemented the necessary changes so we are prepared to deal with a large
I believe it is possible a major earthquake can hit anywhere without notice. Whether we are well
prepared to respond, I am not so sure.
Resources: US Geological Survey www.earthquake.usgs.gov