EOC statement about seismic activity in Payne County

By: Rob Hill, Emergency Management Technician for the City of Stillwater

(STILLWATER, OKLA. / March 18, 2014) —Over the past several months it has become very evident that the ground below us is moving.  We have started receiving phone calls and e-mails with questions and general concerns about what is actually happening in the Stillwater, Payne County area in regards to the seismic activity.  In fact, the increased occurrence of earthquakes extends from at least Pottawatomie County in the southeast through Lincoln, Logan, Payne, Noble, Garfield, and Grant Counties in Oklahoma, and up into southernmost central Kansas.   Emergency management has had to take on a new role and add earthquakes to their list of phenomenon. 

In the last several weeks we have been approached with all types of possible reasons for the now occurring earthquakes.  The top five reasons are and in no particular order:

  1. Drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) by gas and oil industries
  2. Deep disposal wells
  3. Reduced water in the local aquifer which reduces the pressure on the surrounding rock formations and allows those structures to shift
  4. Earthquakes have always occurred in Oklahoma and we are experiencing a natural variation in earthquake frequency.
  5. The continental-scale tectonic environment is changing and north-central Oklahoma just happens to be at the center of activity.  

We visited with one local geologist and he informed our office that any of the above could be true and there is no strong evidence to support any of the above ideas above the others.  Only more complete data, and more people analyzing the data, provide the possibility of understanding the real cause of the increased number of earthquakes.

To those who call the city to express your concerns about the earthquake activity, we understand your frustration and your concerns; we share them ourselves, but please know that there is really nothing that can be done from the city’s level.  Geologists are studying to find what is happening in Oklahoma.  Some suggestions have been to contact your local representatives and ask them to provide financial and regulatory support for research into what is taking place.  Another suggestion was to contact the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to express your concerns, and ask questions of them. The Stillwater Emergency Management office will continue to monitor the USGS (http://www.usgs.gov/) and Leonard Geographical Observatory (http://www.okgeosurvey1.gov/).  We would also encourage you to follow up with http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/states/oklahoma/history.php. This site will provide you with a history of Oklahoma’s most devastating earthquakes and where they occurred and put the current events in context.  We, the emergency management office will continue to provide the latest earthquake information on our Facebook page, City of Stillwater Emergency Management (SEMA)

Earthquake Facts:

Fault lines that affect our area:

  • Nemaha fault
  • Meers fault
  • Wilzetta fault (Seminole Uplift)

    Sounds associated with earthquakes:

    1. The louder and sharper the sound, like a popping of fireworks or an explosion; is usually related to very shallow and/or nearby earthquakes.
    2. The deeper the sound, like thunder under the ground; the more distant and/or deeper the movement.

As is true with any type of event that can affect you or your family, we encourage you to research these activities for yourself.  Do not rely on our very basic knowledge, check with geologists in the area and contact the USGS (United States Geological Survey). 

Although the possibility of a damaging earthquake is a hazard that we have not paid much attention to in the past, it is not that much different and may be no greater than the hazards that we have grown up with and are somewhat accustomed to: residential structure fires; brush fires; and severe storms. We naturally pay more attention to newly recognized hazards, but that does not necessarily mean that our risk is greater. The hazards and the risks of all these events are real, but the probabilities that you as an individual or a family will experience direct consequences appear to remain low. Nevertheless, we recommend that you and your family make at least the most basic preparations:

Have a plan:

  1. For every room in your home, to meet immediate needs,
  • For a fire, have two plans to exit;
  • For a severe storm or tornado, have at least one plan to shelter;
  • For an earthquake, have at least one plan to shelter;
  •    For an industrial accident/chemical spill, have at least one plan to shelter and another plan to evacuate

These plans may all be mostly the same, or they may all be different, depending on your home.

  1. Coordinate primary and secondary local points of contact. That is, for example, if you have to evacuate your home (fire, gas leak, etc.), everybody knows to meet at the big pecan tree across the street (primary), or at the local grade school (secondary, and at least two blocks away).
  2. Coordinate primary and secondary remote/distant points of contact. That is, for example, if your entire community is affected by a tornado, fire, earthquake, or industrial accident, everybody in your family knows to call the same grandparent/aunt/uncle/cousin at least one or two counties away.   Be sure that your primary and secondary remote contacts know each other and will communicate.

We also encourage you to know what to do during an earthquake. This is not something most people in Oklahoma have really had to know in the past, but it never hurts to stay up to date on the latest practices for protecting yourself and your family.  Here are the basic rules for protection during an earthquake:

In MOST situations, you will reduce your chance of injury if you:

  • DROP down onto your hands and knees (before the earthquakes knock you down). This position protects you from falling but allows you to still move if necessary.
  • COVER your head and neck (and your entire body if possible) under a sturdy table or desk. If there is no shelter nearby, only then should you get down near an interior wall (or next to low-lying furniture that won't fall on you), and cover your head and neck with your arms and hands.
  • HOLD ON to your shelter (or to your head and neck) until the shaking stops. Be prepared to move with your shelter if the shaking shifts it around.

Wherever you are, protect yourself! You may be in situation where you cannot find shelter beneath furniture (or low against a wall, with your arms covering your head and neck). It is important to think about what you will do to protect yourself wherever you are. What if you are driving, in a theater, in bed, at the beach, etc.? 

And, finally, to put the hazards in a real-world perspective: You and your family are probably much more likely to be seriously injured in an automobile than in all the fires, floods, tornados, or earthquakes combined! The greatest risks are the risks we face every day and have become used to, earthquakes are  scary because they are relatively new and unfamiliar, but our greater hazards and risks may be those that are almost invisible because they are so familiar.