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Why is FEMA Preparing for Catastrophic Disaster Event?
Written by  // Wednesday, 02 February 2011 13:27 //

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is preparing for a "catastrophic disaster event" within the New Madrid Seismic Zone, according a FEMA spokesperson and the government web site www.FedBizOpps.gov.

FEMA today preliminarily responded to requests for information from Tom Kowitz and Michele Gaudin, hosts of WGSO's libertarian talk show "Baldy and The Blonde." Mary Olson of the FEMA press office promised to explain why FEMA has begun to prepare for a major catastrophe affecting millions and the cost of procuring provisions for 7 million survivors.

On January 20, FEMA issued requests for information to "identify sources of supply" for 140 million meals, 140 million blankets, and 2.1 billion liters of water "in support of disaster relief efforts based on a catastrophic disaster event" within the NMSZ. FEMA canceled its RFI for meals on January 27, because, according to FEMA officials, the RFI was "prematurely posted on FedBizOpps in an attempt to gather information from potential vendors", according to a Feb. 1 article in the online version of Science magazine.

The New Madrid Fault runs generally along the Mississippi River for about 150 miles, from southern Illinois to northeast Arkansas.

FEMA issued its requests for information two days after the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's deadline for private businesses to submit proposals for a project related to the seismicity of certain regions, including the NMSZ, and 20 days after a final report on "seismic source characterization" was scheduled to be delivered to the NRC.

Responding to questions by email, Seth Stein, the William Deering Professor of Geological Sciences at Northwestern University, called the project on seismic source characterization "routine" and the timing of FEMA's requests for information "coincidence." Dr. Stein has studied the New Madrid Seismic Zone for more than ten years.

In a January 26 interview with Tom Kowitz and Michele Gaudin on the Baldy and The Blonde radio show (WGSO 990AM, New Orleans), Dr. Stein called FEMA's preparations "a classic example of a wasteful (government) program."

However, responding by email to questions about a report by Electric Power Research Institute entitled "Central and Eastern U.S. Seismic Source Characterization," which was to be delivered to the NRC on December 31, 2010, Dr. Stein called the project "a routine scientific project" that is not "a boondoggle." Dr. Stein also stated in the email, "[T]he EPRI report is a scientific study with nothing in there that would claim a big earthquake in the next three years."

The three-year figure is significant because on its request for information on meals, FEMA stipulated that "[a]ll meals/kits must have 36 months of remaining shelf life upon delivery."

Expert puzzled by FEMA's activities

Dr. Seth Stein, the William Deering Professor of Geological Sciences at Northwestern University, has studied the New Madrid Seismic Zone for more than ten years and is convinced the NMSZ does not represent a risk for at least a few hundred years, and perhaps a few thousand years.

In a January 26 interview with Tom Kowitz and Michele Gaudin on the Baldy and The Blonde radio show (WGSO 990AM, New Orleans), Dr. Stein said, "There is no particular reason to feel that we face danger of a large earthquake any time in the next few hundred or probably even few thousand years in the Midwest," and "even the people (who) are most concerned" believe the NMSZ will not pose a risk for at least 200 years."

FEMA has "absolutely not" contacted Dr. Stein, and Dr. Stein is not aware of any contact between FEMA and his colleagues who have studied the NMSZ for years.

Dr. Stein called FEMA's efforts to procure provisions for 7 million survivors of a catastrophic event within the NMSZ "much ado about nothing" and "a classic example of a wasteful (government) program."

FEMA did not publicize an estimate of the cost of the provisions, which originally were 140 million meals, 140 million blankets, and 2.1 billion liters of water. FEMA canceled its request for information about meals on January 27, seven days after it was issued. The provisions are for 7 million survivors for 10 days.

"Scientifically, there's no great case for (preparing for a catastrophic event in the NMSZ). I can think of probably a thousand more likely disasters," Stein said. "Any geologist will tell you that a much bigger danger in the Midwest is floods and tornadoes," which are "about 25 times more dangerous than earthquakes."

Following are excerpts from Dr. Stein's web site:

"[D]ata suggest that the New Madrid seismic zone may be shutting down"; 

"Precise measurements with GPS show that the ground is barely moving or isn't moving, so little or no strain is building up for a future earthquake";

"The New Madrid zone doesn't look thermally or mechanically different from many other structures in the central U.S.";

"[P]recise measurements using the Global Positioning System . . . show that motion across the New Madrid Seismic Zone currently is either very slow or zero suggests that it may be dying today."

Article by Tom Kowitz & Michele Gaudin of the Baldy & The Blonde radio show on WGSO Radio.

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