January 29, 2021

February is Earthquake Awareness Month in Missouri, with emphasis on preparedness

Missourians reminded how to respond in case of a major earthquake in the New Madrid Seismic Zone

Southeast Missouri is home to the New Madrid Seismic Zone (NMSZ), which generated some of the most powerful earthquakes ever to jolt the nation. A series of major quakes occurred in 1811-12, destroying buildings, ringing church bells hundreds of miles away, and briefly causing the Mississippi River to run backward. The area is still active today, with an average of more than 200 earthquakes each year, though many are too small to be felt.

To remind Missourians of the earthquake risk, Missouri observes Earthquake Awareness Month each February to emphasize the very real risk of more catastrophic earthquakes occurring in the NMSZ. While no one can predict exactly when an earthquake will occur, scientists agree that large earthquakes in this zone still pose a risk.

Seismic magnitude scales are used to determine the overall strength or “size” of an earthquake. In 2020, there were 238 earthquakes in the New Madrid Seismic Zone that were rated 1.5 magnitude or greater, with 119 of them occurring in Missouri. The historical earthquakes of 1811-1812 are estimated to have been above a magnitude of 7.0, which would cause immense destruction if they were to happen today.

“Powerful earthquakes like those that occurred 200 years ago could cause shaking and damage for hundreds of miles in every direction, and would be felt all across Missouri,” State Emergency Management Director Jim Remillard said. “Earthquake Awareness Month is a great time to learn about this specific hazard and prepare to protect your family.”

When shaking starts, the best way to stay safe is to “Drop, Cover and Hold On” to protect yourself from falling debris. Drop to your knees, cover your head and get under a desk or table if possible, and hold on until the shaking stops. Experts say that, in developed countries with modern structures, falling debris is the most common source of injuries. 

It’s also important to prepare before an earthquake by taking some simple safety steps: 

  • Bolt bookcases to wall studs, install strong latches on cupboards and strap your home's water heater to wall studs—if it tips over it could start a fire or gas leak, and you could lose a valuable source of water.  
  • Secure overhead lighting fixtures and move heavy objects from high shelves to lower ones. Many injuries in an earthquake are caused by this falling debris.
  • Put together an emergency kit, including a flashlight, first aid kit, radio, drinking water and blankets. A major earthquake could leave families without utilities for weeks.
  • Develop a family communication plan. Identify a relative living at least 100 miles away; everyone can call to "check in" to tell family you're safe. 
  • Know how to turn off your gas and water.
  • Find out if your house is covered for earthquake damage. Most homeowner insurance does not include earthquake coverage; it must be purchased separately. 

Many more resources for families, schools and businesses are available on SEMA's Earthquake Preparedness webpage. Included are fact sheets, interactive maps and informational videos that show what to do in the event of an earthquake. Visit for more information. 


For more information, call 573-751-6294 or e-mail