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The 7.9 Scenario

What is it?

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Primary affected areaSo just what is The 7.9 Scenario and what does it mean?

See the details in my FAQs, or read the summary below.

The 7.9 Scenario is the imagining of what it would be like if a magnitude 7.9 earthquake struck on the New Madrid Fault at the same epicenter as the December 16, 1811 earthquake.

These imaginings are turned into solid estimates of the damage, both to property and to lives, by cross-multiplying the expected shaking intensity map with the population density of the region as determined from the United States census. This gives some indication of the amount of destruction that could be expected from such an event.

In addition, using the economic census and the shaking intensity map, one can estimate the total impact on the economy of the region, and by implication, the impact on the economy of the United States.

The 7.9 Scenario is a worst-case scenario because it assumes all the worst things that can happen do happen. The probability is that the next big earthquake on the New Madrid will be of a lesser intensity, and therefore, inflict less damage to the region. However, there have been even bigger earthquakes in the region, so one should not become complacent.

The probability that the Mississippi will be at flood stage when the earthquake hits is low, but what if it follows Murphy's law and occurs at the worst possible moment? The probability that the shaking of the Kentucky dam will destroy the locks may be low; it needs to be studied further. The probability that the shaking will be enough to break the levees in New Orleans may be low, but are we really sure. Will the Old River Control Structure survive the shaking? I am not sure, but it has already almost been lost when only plagued by the high waters of the mighty river.

So just how worst case is The 7.9 Scenario. I am not sure, but it does give some indication of the kind of world we can expect when the next giant earthquakes tears apart the central United States. It is enough of a warning to make me worry and to think we should start doing more planning and preparation for what might occur. The odds are low, but the risk is far too great to ignore.

Now, go read my Frequently Asked Questions.

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