Correction: Katie Belknap is the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management earthquake program manager. While sensors did monitor the 8.89-magnitude earthquake in Chile in 2010, they were not the same kind of monitors recently installed in Blytheville schools. Those quake catcher monitors can be switched to a “training mode” that allows them to pick up the motion of jumping students, but they are not as sensitive as U.S. Geological Survey monitors. This article gave incorrect information.
Blytheville, in northeast Arkansas along the southern end of the New Madrid Seismic Zone, has felt earthquakes from the fault system over the years.
Now, the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management and a Southern California earthquake agency want to turn that shaking into educational opportunities.
They have equipped the Blytheville School District with "quake catchers," small sensors that detect ground movement consistent with earthquakes. Geologists placed the monitors in Blytheville Primary School and Blytheville Intermediate School on June 18, said Katie Belknap, earthquake program director for the state's emergency department. Officials hope to add one to the high school this fall.
The sensors are the first installed in a school in the central U.S., she said.
"Kids are visual learners," she said. "I think this will emphasize earthquakes and their safety. It should be a good educational tool."
Another quake catcher may be installed in a northern Mississippi school soon, she said.
The quake catchers, the size of a small credit card, are placed on laptop computers and smartphones. They are connected to computer software programs and are networked with schools, museums, libraries and other public places that also have the catchers installed.
The monitors are part of a "citizen science" program developed by the University of California at Berkeley and the Southern California Earthquake Center that uses research from students, residents and other people.
There are at least 3,000 monitors in California, Hawaii, Japan and South America, Belknap said.
One monitor captured the movement of an 8.8-magnitude earthquake in Chile in 2010, one of the largest earthquakes ever recorded.
"The students can go online and see the seismicity from some earthquake recorded by a catcher," she said.
Blytheville has recorded at least five earthquakes within the past two months, according to the Center for Earthquake Research and Information at the University of Memphis.
The Mississippi County town sits atop the southwestern end of the New Madrid Seismic Zone. The zone stretches from southern Indiana southwest into northeastern Arkansas.
A second series of faults cuts across southern Missouri and into Tennessee and northern Mississippi.
In 1811 and 1812, the zone was the site of some of the largest earthquakes ever felt on the continental U.S. Tremors from three large quakes rang church bells in Charleston, S.C., and cracked concrete as far away as Washington, D.C., historians say.
Scott Ausbrooks, the geohazards specialist with the Arkansas Geological Survey, said the monitors in the school are a vital tool for informing people about the dangers of earthquakes and how to be prepared for them.
"Lots of schools have fire drills and tornado drills," Ausbrooks said. "But not many have earthquake drills often. Any time we can educate children about earthquakes, and they tell their parents, it increases awareness."
Ausbrooks said tornadoes, flooding, snowstorms and other weather events can generally be forecast, and people can take time to prepare.
Quakes, though, happen suddenly.
"It's fortunate we don't have them often," he said. "But the potential is there for them.
"This is an important and vital tool. Raising awareness is great."
The monitors are so sensitive that they can pick up motion by children jumping, Belknap said.
"They can jump up and down and create their own 'earthquakes' to see what they look like on the catcher," Belknap said.
"We're focusing on getting the message out to them," she said. "There's 'quake burnout,' because we can't see them.
"We see tornadoes, we can hear them, we can use all our senses, and they happen every year. We can't give them any idea when an earthquake will happen. We can't really show them until it happens."
State Desk on 06/29/2015