Little Known Earthquake Danger in Tennessee

March 6, 2017

Memphis, Tennessee, while widely recognized as one of the great music centers in the United States, also sits in the middle of the New Madrid seismic zone, an area of potential earthquake activity that ranges from Arkansas to southern Illinois and includes parts of western Tennessee, eastern Missouri, and western Kentucky.

The probability of a 7.5-8.0 magnitude earthquake occurring in the he region in the next 50 years is roughly 7 percent to 10 percent. A quake of that size would be sufficient to cause major damage over a large area. When the magnitude is lowered to 6, enough to cause serious localized damage, the probability jumps to 25 percent to 40 percent.

Each year the U.S. Geological survey records some 150 to 200 earthquakes in the New Madrid zone, but most are too minimal in their impact to be felt with the aid of sensors. Historically, however, one of the most significant earthquakes ever to occur in this country was centered in the New Madrid zone during the winter of 1811-1812.

Memphis sits in Shelby County were the director of the county’s emergency management agency, Bob Nations, says seismic monitoring and earthquake readiness are a part of his office’s daily business, where building and code compliance are stringently reviewed.

“Our first responder community in this region is highly competent. There should be a high level of confidence in our first response community, in terms of being able to more than adequately respond to life safety issues.

Charles Langston, the directory of the Center for Earthquake Research Information at the University of Memphis said, “As a geologist and geophysicist, yet, it’s inevitable. It could happen tomorrow, it could happen 100 years from now.”