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Simulator replicates experience of being in an earthquake

Missouri emergency management officials are buying a $200,000 machine that will simulate an earthquake to prepare residents for a big temblor in a region where one of the most powerful earthquakes east of the Rocky Mountains occurred in the 1800s.

The simulator is built inside a large cargo trailer, which has special hydraulics that shake the vehicle violently for 5 to 10 seconds, giving the feel of an 8.0 magnitude earthquake. The inside of the simulator is decorated like a small house, to illustrate how pictures and other household items can become projectiles if not properly secured, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

A two-person team will take the unit through the Bootheel region in southeast Missouri, where the New Madrid fault is located. On Dec. 16, 1811, the New Madrid fault unleashed an earthquake so violent that historians say it woke people on the East Coast, including President James Madison. No official seismographs were available at the time, but experts estimated it was 7.7 magnitude.

“Preparedness is key to avoiding injuries and reducing damage. To raise awareness of the dangers of the (New Madrid Seismic Zone) and overall earthquake preparedness throughout the state, the earthquake simulator will be utilized for educational outreach at public events,” said Caty Eisterhold, spokeswoman for the Missouri State Emergency Management Agency.

The simulator will reinforce for Missourians how they should react to be safer during an earthquake and what to expect immediately after a large magnitude event, and will improve reaction of first responders, emergency managers and the public, she said.

The Missouri Geological Survey said at least four earthquakes measuring 4.5 magnitude or greater have occurred in the New Madrid zone since 1974. Hundreds of quakes between magnitude 2.0 and 3.9 have been recorded there since 2000.

The state used federal funds to buy the equipment in a no-bid contract. Eisterhold said the no-bid contract was used because the equipment is extremely specialized.