Some might shake their head in bewilderment upon learning that Illinois residents are among others nation and worldwide who are encouraged to participate in the annual International ShakeOut Day.

Set for Thursday, the day is meant to urge earthquake preparedness drills. Earthquakes? Isn’t that a threat reserved for mostly California residents among America’s citizens?

No, not exactly. While California’s threat level is enhanced by its immense population, Alaska is on par with California in terms of the frequency and intensity of earthquakes. Indeed, the top 10 states for earthquake activity are all west of The Rocky Mountains.

But activity isn’t confined to the west. America’s heartland is also at risk because of the New Madrid seismic zone that runs through its center. Named for New Madrid, Mo., which sits on the main fault line, the fault zone runs about 120 miles from northeast Arkansas to southern Illinois and can cause havoc a considerable distance from its origin.

In addition, there is the Wabash Valley Seismic zone located due north of New Madrid along the Wabash River’s lower valley that straddles the state line along southeastern Illinois and southwestern Indiana. While New Madrid is more notable, some experts believe Wabash Valley now poses a greater threat.

As recently as 2010, a significant quake measuring 3.8 on the Richter scale was detected 70 miles north of Chicago, with its epicenter traced to an area between the towns of Virgil and Sycamore. While no one was killed and major damage largely was absent, some homes sustained severe damage.

These incidents are few and far between, but measurable earthquakes occur in Illinois yearly. None has brought tragedy in a very long time, but don’t assume it never will happen.

A sequence of major quakes, known as the New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811-1812, rank among the the 10 most serious in U.S. history. They measured in the 7.0-8.0 range and caused considerable death and devastation in the greater Mississippi River valley.

COVID-19 has taught us tragedy from 100 years or more ago can repeat itself. Illinoisans should practice earthquake readiness. Go to shakeout.org for more details.

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