Hazards and Threats


The United States Geological Society worldwide earthquake map tracks by the hour, day, and week earthquakes of magnitude 4.5 and greater (magnitude 2.5 and greater within the United States).  Earthquakes can occur anywhere on earth, and they happen every day. But most that occur in Alabama are too small to be felt.

The Geological Survey of Alabama notes four seismic zones that affect Alabama:  the New Madrid Seismic Zone (NMSZ), the Southern Appalachian Seismic Zone (SASZ), the South Carolina Seismic Zone (SCSZ), and the Bahamas Fracture Seismic Zone (BFSZ).

Most earthquake damage is caused by shaking. The strength of an earthquake generally depends on three factors:

  • Magnitude of the earthquake—the larger the earthquake, the stronger the shaking and the larger the area feeling it.
  • Distance from the earthquake—the farther you are from the source of an earthquake, the less shaking you will feel.
  • Type of ground material—soft soils shake more than hard rock. Earthquakes in the central United States are felt farther away from the source because the soil in this region is soft.

How should you prepare for an earthquake? While you may not have a warning, you can prepare for an earthquake as you do for any other disaster.

Get a kit. Build an emergency kit tailored for you and your family. The general rule is to have enough supplies on hand for at least three days for each person in your household. If you can include additional water and food, you will be better prepared to take care of yourself and your family.

Make a plan. The best thing to do if you experience an earthquake is to stay wherever you are. Make a communications plan for your family, so everyone will know how to stay in touch in case you are in separate locations when an earthquake occurs. Check for hazards in your home.  Follow these recommendations for reducing the hazards.

  • Strap bookcases and shelves to walls to prevent tipping.
  • Securely fasten or relocate pictures and mirrors over beds.
  • Brace or replace masonry chimneys.
  • Secure ceiling fans and hanging light fixtures.
  • Strap down computers, televisions, and other expensive or hazardous electrical components.
  • Secure cabinets to wall studs; use latches to keep cabinet doors shut.
  • Ensure that gas appliances have flexible connections.
  • Prevent refrigerators from rolling or tilting.
  • Brace water heaters.
  • Know how and where to shut off utilities.

Review your insurance policies. Do you have earthquake insurance? Most people don’t buy it, because they think that it is too expensive and that an earthquake won’t happen to them. The central United States, which includes Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Tennessee, has a moderate to high risk for earthquakes, depending on the area of the state.

If you experience an earthquake, take these steps.

  • Drop to the floor.
  • Cover yourself. Get under a sturdy desk, table, or other furniture. Avoid danger spots near windows, hanging objects, or tall furniture. Do not stand in a doorway.
  • If you take cover under a sturdy piece of furniture, hold onto it and be prepared to move with it.

Be informed.  Listen to your local radio and television stations or check their web sites for the most current information.

For more information