The magnitude 4.2 earthquake in Sparks could be felt for several miles, making it a prime example for the 4th annual Great Nevada ShakeOut’s emergency preparedness outreach. Ken Smith, associate director of the Nevada Seismological Laboratory at the University of Nevada, Reno said the shaking during that quake may have rattled the walls for a few seconds, but Thursday’s event was designed to warn of bigger quakes in the region’s future.
Smith said, based on historical seismological data, there is a 25 to 30 percent chance of a magnitude 6.0 earthquake within 50 kilometers of Reno/Sparks in the next 20 years.
“Some people are under the impression that it (the Spanish Springs quake) was the type of earthquakes we have around here, but that is not what we are talking about. It will be much bigger than that,” Smith said Thursday inside the Regional Emergency Operations Center (REOC) in Reno. “The ground shaking from a (magnitude) six versus a four will be about 100 times more. That is a significant difference. The little ones people feel around here sometimes are much different than what we are trying to prepare people for right now.”
The Great Nevada ShakeOut involved more than 63,000 Washoe County School District students who were taught to “Drop, Cover and Hold on” for at least 60 seconds during an earthquake. The trend continued throughout Nevada as about 540,000 people, and 22 million worldwide, signed up to participate at 10:17 a.m.
Washoe County Emergency Manager Aaron Kenneston said preparedness came to the foreground Thursday, but the emergency management team and safety officials throughout Reno and Sparks cannot afford to only think about earthquakes for just one day.
“We live in earthquake country,” Kenneston said, “And when I talk to the seismologists, they tell me that we have had about 25 large earthquakes, that’s (magnitude) 6.0 or higher, in the last 150 years in our region. We have not had many recently though, but our history shows that we have them even though we have not had them lately.
“We need to make sure that we do not drop our guard, so to speak, and that we remember that earthquakes are one of the top three hazards in our region. We should take a moment to think about how we react as public safety officials and also as individuals.”
Kenneston had emergency and safety partners ranging from American Red Cross and REMSA, to regional fire and police agencies, to volunteer coordinators working Thursday at the REOC, discussing tactics and stages of planning should an earthquake emergency occur.
“We want to review those overarching objectives we have for each department to ensure we are synchronized and running smoothly in an earthquake event,” he said. “Each department should be moving the same way as the stages progress, even though each department has a different task or job during an emergency.”
Tips for preparing emergency survival kits at home or at work can be found at www.seismo.unr.edu, including what the kits can contain and strategies for family planning. Kenneston said proactive tactics, such as strapping down the water heater or childproof latches on kitchen cabinets, can be useful as well.
Smith said between 12,000 and 15,000 small earthquakes happen in the region each year. While earthquakes come with a certain unknown and unpreparedness factor, Smith said Washoe County is armed with personnel ready for any large incident or emergency because of its extensive planning.
“It is a really good group around here and they are very prepared for events like this,” Smith said, adding that preparedness drills and real-time scenarios are done throughout the year. “They may be overwhelmed, but they have really worked through it several times and they are ready for it.”