Photo credit: US Geological Survey
Thanks to gas and oil wastewater being pumped into the earth here in Oklahoma, our fine state has the new distinction of the most likely place in the United States to see earthquake damage in 2016. We’ve dethroned California, the previous owner of the title, and added earthquakes to tornadoes, dust storms and wildfires on our list of natural disasters to deal with. Take that, west coast!
The map above shows the US Geological Survey’s 2016 earthquake hazard forecast. This is the first year they’ve included man-made earthquakes in their estimates, thus handing us the crown. Earthquakes in OK have been on the rise since 2009, with the sharp increase being widely attributed to drilling and pumping wastewater. Last year the state experienced close to 900 3+ magnitude quakes, while in 2007 there was only one. On earlier USGS maps, Oklahoma barely showed up.
Who is at Risk?
The highest chances of earthquake damage are in the north-central part of the state, from Oklahoma City north into southern Kansas. According to the USGS, the risks are the same or worse as along the famous San Andreas fault in California.
10 of Oklahoma’s 12 most powerful quakes in history have been since 2011. The recent explosion of seismic activity has led to a huge increase of Oklahomans buying earthquake insurance. Currently 10% of the state’s residents have insured their homes- a rate similar to California.
The USGS has typically put out this map once every 6 years, but has started putting out this map annually in response to the increase in Oklahoma. “We want to help people understand how much concern they should have with these earthquakes,” said Mark Petersen, chief of the agency’s National Seismic Hazard Mapping Project.
While Californians are used to frequent rumblings, it’s been a bit harder for us to acclimate to the new normal. “It’s scary when they happen in the middle of the night,” Oklahoma City resident Mike Kahn told National Geographic magazine. “It’s a weird feeling to feel your house shaking. Your heart is racing, you are running down the hall to check on your kids, and then you run back and check on your wife. They make your heart skip.”
What does this mean for me?
Oklahoma's Department of Emergency Management urges people to understand the risks earthquake pose and get prepared now. Most importantly, emergency agencies ask that people have supplies covered at least for the first few days following an earthquake, as well as a plan.
If you don't have an Earthquake Bag and a plan in place, get it done today. You need to have food and water for at least a few days, communication and light sources that don't rely on the electric grid (like a hand-crank radio/flashlight/phone-charger), shelter and warmth, first aid, hygiene, and tools and equipment needed in the aftermath of an earthquake. If your house or building has gas lines, get a gas shutoff tool and ziptie it to the turn-off valve.
Additionally, make sure you and your family have a plan. Know where you'll meet after an earthquake. Plan and practice an evacuation route from your home. Designate an out-of-town contact that everyone can connect with, as phone service may be down. Write down and keep copies of the emergency contacts for your area, and your out-of-town contact.
Preparing for a major earthquake really doesn't have to be daunting. Pick up an Earthquake Bag now, take an evening to create a plan for your family or house, and feel better knowing you've prepared!