Imagine that a subtle shaking awakens you from a sound sleep. You step out of bed to investigate and, as you move through your house, the rumble intensifies to a shake, then a full roil.
The pictures on your walls crash to the ground; the ground beneath you lurches and heaves. You look out the window and see waves of earth travel down a nearby road.
This isn’t a scene from the most recent disaster-themed movie. This is what it looked like in the Midwest between December 1811 and March 1812, when the frontier town of New Madrid in what is now Missouri – and the surrounding area – experienced earthquakes ranging in magnitude from 7.1 to an estimated 8.8 on the Richter scale.
The quakes were so intense that church bells ringing in Boston were attributed to the shaking.
The Prairie Assurance Exercise, which took place Oct. 31 – Nov. 4, 2018, at multiple locations in Illinois, focused on an event like this occurring along the New Madrid and Wabash Valley seismic zones. It’s the same area where the series of quakes struck in 1811-12.
The mock earthquakes caused widespread damage across seven States, including southern Illinois. The full-scale, statewide exercise in preparedness tested the ability of the Illinois National Guard to integrate with State and local emergency management agencies and first responders to react to an event like this.
Adjutant General of the Illinois National Guard MG Richard J. Hayes Jr. opened the event by explaining the goal of the exercise.
“It’s the planning and steeping yourself in the problems that allow you to be adaptive and creative when it actually occurs,” MG Hayes said. “All of the effort we put into this is to understand the problem and recognize that when it hits, it’s all going to change.”
Darryl Dragoo, director of operations for the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) in Springfield, said exercises like Prairie Assurance are necessary to figure out what IEMA may need and how the Illinois National Guard can provide support.
“It’s been awesome,” Dragoo said. “The front end was great, and the operational communications piece exceeded everybody’s expectations. Now we’re working the finer points, which is where we need to be to coordinate mission sets and really decide the best use of the Guard’s forces against the mission sets of the State.”
Illinois National Guard Director of the Joint Staff BG Michael Glisson echoed Dragoo’s sentiment and said in the six years he has been heavily involved in earthquake planning for the Guard, this exercise had the greatest level of participation.
“We’ve made more headway from a planning standpoint this week than we have in a long time,” BG Glisson said. “I’m extremely pleased, and I know that the adjutant general is as well with what we’ve done this week. Continued integrated planning is critical in this world to ensure good interagency relationships and to make sure we always understand each other and make sure that we’re not meeting for the first time during an event.”
BY SFC BRYAN SPREITZER, Illinois NATIONAL GUARD