Impact of earthquakes in the Central USA - Phase II of MAE Center report released

6/24/2010 10:26:00 AM

Total economic impact of a New Madrid Fault rupture would constitute the highest economic loss due to a natural disaster in the U.S.A.

In September 2008, the Mid-America Earthquake (MAE) Center at the University of Illinois released a report on the outcome of one of the largest and most comprehensive earthquake consequence assessment projects ever funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Phase II of the report, Impact of Earthquakes on the Central USA, which utilized a significant amount of new data, reveals that the results of a major earthquake event in the Central United States could result in several thousand fatalities and approximately $300 billion in direct economic loss—over three times the amount predicted initially—by far, the greatest economic loss due to a natural disaster in the U.S.A.

“The second phase of this study looked at the results of a complete rupture of entire New Madrid fault where the Phase I looked at various segments of earthquake activity,” explained Amr Elnashai, Mid-America Earthquake Center researcher and lead author of the report, who conducted the study in partnership with FEMA, Central U.S. Earthquake Consortium (CUSEC), Innovative Emergency Management (IEM), and Virginia Tech. “Phase II used more comprehensive and more current hazard data—ground shaking, liquefaction, and soils data—provided by the U.S. Geological Survey and the state geologic surveys in Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee. Phase II also incorporated more comprehensive inventory data, including GIS data on buildings, bridges, pipelines, hospitals, fire stations, and more.”

Utilizing these data resulted in significantly higher impacts compared to Phase I: Nearly 715,000 damaged buildings, 2.6 million households without electric power, nearly 86,000 total casualties with 3,500 fatalities for the 2:00 a.m. scenario event, and approximately $300 billion in direct economic loss.

“The economic impact is really much different than Phase 1 where the worst case scenario showed more like $100 billion,” added Elnashai, who is also the Bill and Elaine Hall Endowed Professor and head of Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Illinois. Other new Phase II findings included a detailed transportation network impact analysis for Memphis and St. Louis; detailed utilities network impact analysis for Memphis and St. Louis; impacts to major river crossings (large bridges across Mississippi and Ohio rivers, for example); and flood risk modeling (floods caused by damages to river levees).

“This latest MAE Center study is the most regionally-comprehensive earthquake impact assessment ever completed in the U.S.,” Elnashai remarked. “Understanding the full extent of the risk is very important, especially as we ask decision-makers and the public to invest in infrastructure improvements and readiness preparations that may mitigate both the number of casualties and the economic loss.” Elnashai noted that earthquake impact results from Phase 1 study were used as part of 30 state-level earthquake planning workshops held to exercise response, workshops sponsored by FEMA and implemented by IEM.

The original study looked at the potential impact, due to earthquake activity, to the Central United States from three seismic zones: The New Madrid Seismic Zone (NMSZ) which is comprised of Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee, the Wabash Valley Seismic Zone (WVSZ) in southern Illinois and southeast Indiana, and the East Tennessee Seismic Zone (ETSZ) in eastern Tennessee and northeastern Alabama. The study showed that these three seismic zones constitute significant risk of moderate-to-severe earthquakes throughout the central region of the USA.

The assessment project is a multi-phase effort of various earthquake scenarios using HAZUS-MH MR2 and MAEviz earthquake impact modeling software. The project is managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Construction Engineering Research Laboratory, and the work was undertaken in partnership with the Center for Technology, Security, and Policy at Virginia Tech, with contributions for the eight State Geological Surveys, IEM, FEMA, U.S. Geological Survey, and CUSEC.

The report is available for download at Bound paper and CD copies are available from Breanne Ertmer, program coordinator.

Contact: Amr Elnashai, Bill and Elaine Hall Endowed Professor & Department Head, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, 217/265-5497.

Timothy Gress
, Managing Director, Mid-America Earthquake Center, 217/244-7158.

Jim Wilcoski, ERDC-CERL, 217/373-6763 or 800/872-2375, ext. 6763.

If you have any questions about the College of Engineering, or other story ideas, contact Rick Kubetz, Engineering Communications Office, 217/244-7716, writer/editor.