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ST. LOUIS – Eastern and southern Missouri, including in the St. Louis area, will likely sustain damage if an earthquake occurred in the New Madrid Seismic Zone. 

To prepare for this possibility, structural experts practiced their response to a simulated massive earthquake Saturday at Jefferson Barracks.

The New Madrid Seismic Zone produced some of the largest earthquakes in U.S. history. And if an earthquake does happen, buildings in the St. Louis area need to be structurally sound.

The Missouri Structural Assessment and Visual Evaluation Coalition, along with the air and army guard, practiced how to respond to an earthquake.

In a command center, monitors display the number of buildings deemed safe, has some damage but safe to enter, or a hazard and should not be entered.

“An exercise sponsored by the Missouri SAVE Coalition to train volunteers on building evaluations in case of an earthquake or, another type of disaster like a tornado,” said Maj. Dan Zedack, Missouri National Guard.

“Specifically for the guard, we are here to again get the training and participate in the exercise so that we are familiar with the Missouri SAVES operations and procedures.”

The coalition is a group of more than 1,000 volunteer engineers, architects, and building officials – trained to quickly determine which buildings are safe to use and which should be evacuated after a disaster. 

This large deployment exercise is done once every few years.

“Southeast Missouri and all the way up to and including the St. Louis Area is at risk if a large earthquake hits the area,” said Jeff Briggs, earthquake program manager with Missouri State Emergency Management Agency.

“The New Madrid seismic zone, which is a very active seismic zone, is centered here in Missouri.”

It’s the most active seismic zone east of the Rocky Mountains, with about 200 small earthquakes occurring each year.

The Emergency Management Agency simulated an earthquake and damage to different buildings across Jefferson Barracks.

“When they’re out there looking, what they do is they do a rapid assessment, which means they’re going to be spending no more than 10 or 15 minutes at a building. They circle it, and they look for key areas that they’ve been trained to look for that might indicate structural damage. Maybe the roof is separated from the walls, or maybe there’s large cracking,” Briggs said.

One of the major planning activities for the Missouri National Guard is a possible New Madrid seismic zone incident.

“As of that, and because our unit is unique in that we are a military unit of professional engineers, we think that this training is important to have in case we’re called upon to perform it for the citizens of Missouri or anybody else affected by a major disaster,” Zedack said.

Scientists say there’s a 25 to 40 percent chance of a major earthquake occurring in this zone in a 50-year timeframe.