Central Nevada rattled for a six-month period in 1954 when four earthquakes ranging in magnitude of 6.6 to 7.2 shook Churchill County from July to December.
A distinctive fault line runs near Fairview Peak after a 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck the range that is about eight miles south of U.S. Highway 50. The series of earthquakes resulted in considerable damage and toppled chimneys and shelves in Fallon and Austin and caused some building foundations to shift.
Since that time, however, the area has experienced minor tremors but nothing compared to the strong earthquakes that caused anxiety for many Lahontan Valley residents; from time to time though, certain areas in western Nevada extending from Hawthorne to Mogul, just west of Reno near the California border, have experienced a series of small quakes.
Because Nevada, along with California and Alaska, ranks as one of the top three states that experiences earthquake activity, The Great Nevada ShakeOut on Thursday will measure Nevadans response to an earthquake by remembering to “Drop, Cover and Hold On.”
Graham Kent, the Nevada Seismological Laboratory director at the University of Nevada, Reno, said more than a half-million Nevadans have signed up to participate in the fourth annual Nevada Shakeout. At exactly 10:17 a.m., Graham said participants will simultaneously participate in the mock exercise.
Graham said The Great Nevada ShakeOut is an annual opportunity for Nevadans to practice earthquake safety and prepare for the possibility of a major earthquake.
“The ShakeOut is not something individuals need to leave work to participate in; in fact, participation at work is encouraged,” Graham said.
According to Graham, businesses, organizations, schools and government agencies can register and have their employees practice the “Drop, Cover and Hold On” action or have a more extensive emergency drill. He added the drill is an opportunity to review and update emergency preparedness plans and supplies and to secure spaces in order to prevent damage and injuries.
“A record number of participants in Nevada are registered, and we’d like to see even more,” said Kent, who is also a geophysicist in the College of Science at the university. “In our seismically active state it’s important to be ready for an earthquake.”
The first agencies in Churchill County to sign up for the Nevada Shakeout were the Churchill County School District and the Child Development Center at Naval Air Station Fallon.
Jim Johnson, a vice principal at Churchill County Middle School and the district’s safety chairman, said the Nevada ShakeOut will substitute for the monthly fire drill for all students and faculty.
Johnson said the district is putting much emphasis on Thursday’s drill.
“Our superintendent (Dr. Sandra Sheldon) suggested at the last leadership meeting that we all participate,” Johnson said.
Steve Endacott, the city of Fallon’s emergency coordinator, said from a community response perspective, Naval Air Station Fallon just conducted a full-scale earthquake exercise in August, in which the city and county participated.
“Our next exercise is in November, and is a Hazardous Materials and Communications exercise that will be conducted in the City/County Emergency Operations Center,” Endacott said.
Endacott further recommended that residents get their home and business disaster preparedness plans and supplies. For guidance, Endacott said they should visit http://www.ready.gov/
Over the years, geologists and other emergency professions say it is not if but when Northern Nevada will experience a strong earthquake.
A report released within the past five years from the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology indicates that a 6.0 magnitude earthquake will strike within 30 miles of Fallon by 2060; however, if a 5.0 magnitude trembler shook the area, Churchill County residents would experience an 80-90 percent probability of feeling the earthquake and its aftermath.
The report further stated that Churchill County is located in the highest zone level of seismic hazard called “Earthquake Country.”
That report came on the aftermath of a destructive 6.0 magnitude earthquake that destroyed a portion of the old downtown area of Wells in February 2008 and caused considerable damage to the high school gymnasium.
Earthquake drills are nothing new to Northern Nevada. In June 2008, multiple federal, state and local governments — along with NAS Fallon, the National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve — conducted a weeklong training called Vigilant Guard 08. The exercise followed the scenario of a 7.0 magnitude earthquake striking western Nevada, causing widespread damage along the Sierra front and into Churchill County that was a major player in the drill.
Planners established Vigilant Guard as a training for the military and government and civilian agencies to coordinate and practice response techniques. In addition to Churchill County, the exercise also included Carson City as well as Washoe, Douglas, Storey and Lyon counties.
The Fallon area had at least five training scenarios ranging from a mass casualty drill to a bomb threat to building walls collapsing in a hangar at NAS Fallon.
The U.S. Air Force also provided a drone to fly over earthquake faults, but real-world scenarios also relied on the unmanned aircraft.
The drone surveyed a broken canal line west of the city and also helped locate two downed jets from NAS Fallon that collided with each other about 60 miles east of Fallon.