October 21. 2012By DAN SEUFERT
A 4.0-magnitude earthquake hit southern Maine Tuesday at 7:12 p.m., and rattled much of the Granite State in the process. Despite the concern of residents, there were only five confirmed reports of minor damage in the state.
Communications, however, were an entirely different matter.
“Everyone in Franklin apparently picked up their cell phones at once, and nobody was getting through,” said Fire Chief Kevin LaChapelle, who is also the city’s emergency management director.
Fire departments throughout the state were getting calls when the shaking started, and the state’s Emergency 911 system received more than 900 calls in the hour after the earthquake. Most of the calls were from people just curious what was going on, officials said.
“Very few of those calls were actually to report emergencies,” said Christopher Pope, the state’s director of homeland security and emergency management, and that showed officials where work needs to be done.
The state has an elaborate emergency management system that includes plans for dealing with earthquakes. The plan includes regional groups of volunteers ready to spring into action for any emergency, including earthquakes.
But all of the plans require open lines of communication, both landlines and cell phones, to be available.
“An earthquake is different from other emergencies in that it is immediate. There will be no immediate warning like there is with a hurricane,” said state Fire Marshal William Degnan. “We can’t have delays in getting help to people.”
The state’s plans to deal with earthquakes were tested by Tuesday’s tremor and again, coincidentally, on Thursday, when state emergency management teams and fire crews from the state’s 11 mutual fire aid territories participated in an earthquake preparedness exercise in Hooksett, Pope said.
The exercise scenario called for emergenc fire crews to be summonded from the Upper Valley in the Lebanon area to Concord.
“I’m happy to say it went very well,” Pope said.
Statewide, there is a network of Community Emergency Response Teams, or CERTs. The groups were originally formed in California in the 1980s after several more serious earthquakes occurred there.
California planners realized that emergency responders would be overwhelmed in a bad earthquake, so they formed trained citizen groups to react in emergencies.
In New Hampshire, the CERT teams are funded by a federal grant through the N.H. Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
CERT teams are prepared for all kinds of tragedies, not just earthquakes. When activated by the state, Loudon’s CERT team is ready for victims of hurricanes, floods and other large-scale emergency events, said Faith Stevens of the Loudon CERT.
The Lakes Region CERT team has specialized earthquake training, said Kathleen Merriam, coordinator of volunteers for the team. With the help of the Gilford Fire Department and Lakes Region Mutual Fire Aid Association, the CERT team has learned to turn off gas, triage techniques, traffic control techniques and search and rescue operations.
“We have gone beyond core training,” Merriam said.
New Hampshire has had several small earthquakes in its history, so forming CERT teams and emergency planning for a mjaor earthquake may seem a stretch to some. But the Granite State is one of 40 in the country that is considered “at-risk” for a large earthquakes.
“We are considered to be at risk, and we view earthquakes seriously. They can have the greatest and broadest area of impact of any emergency we deal with,” Pope said.
Complete preparedness information for disasters is available at ready.gov In general, people should keep a three-day supply of food on hand and a supply of water, though water should not be stored in breakable glass containers.