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FEMA plans earthquake disaster exercise on New Madrid quake bicentennial

New Madrid Fault

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said its plans to conduct a national-level earthquake response drill in the Midwest months ago has taken on new emphasis in light of the disaster in Japan.

FEMA’s Region 6 will partner with the state of Arkansas in a catastrophic earthquake exercise  on May 16-19 that will directly involve at least three other FEMA regions, several states and federal partners throughout the U.S., it said on March 17. The National Level Exercise 2011 (NLE 2011) will simulate catastrophic major earthquake in the central United States region of the New Madrid Seismic Zone (NMSZ). The exercise was planned as part of the agency’s National Exercise Program Implementation Program long before the earthquake in Japan occurred, accordign to the agency.

The exercise is designed to test communications; critical resource logistics and distribution; evacuation plans; sheltering and feeding services plans; public information and warnings; emergency operations center management; and long-term recovery capabilities.

NLE 2011 is designed to replicate the disastrous New Madrid earthquakes in Northeast Arkansas. The year 2011 is the bicentennial anniversary of the 1811 New Madrid earthquake, which was actually a series of seismic events in the area that began in December 1811 and continued into 1812. Some of the earthquakes were felt as far east as South Carolina. Geologists have estimated some of the earthquakes measured around seven on the Richter Scale.

NLE 2011 will be the first NLE to simulate a natural hazard, said FEMA.

"NLE 2011 will focus on regional catastrophic response and recovery activities between federal, regional, state, tribal, local and private sector participants," said Region 6 Administrator Tony Russell in the March 17 statement. "Given recent and ongoing events in Japan, the decision months ago to focus on a catastrophic temblor was by chance, yet obviously appropriate for the U.S."

NLE 2011 is designated as a Tier I National Level Exercise. Tier I exercises (formerly known as the Top Officials exercise series or TOPOFF) are conducted annually in accordance with the National Exercise Program (NEP), which serves as the nation’s overarching exercise program for planning, organizing, conducting and evaluating national level exercises, said FEMA. The NEP was established to provide the U.S. government, at all levels, exercise opportunities to prepare for catastrophic crises ranging from terrorism to natural disasters.

FEMA said NLE 2011 activities will take place at command posts, emergency operation centers and other locations to include federal facilities in the Washington D.C. area and federal, regional, state, tribal, local and private sector facilities in the eight member states of the Central United States Earthquake Consortium (CUSEC). The eight member states of CUSEC encompass four different FEMA regions: Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee (FEMA Region IV); Illinois and Indiana (FEMA Region V); Arkansas (FEMA Region VI); and Missouri (FEMA Region VII).