Why should college students learn about earthquakes? Many consider it an irrelevant subject - especially if they live outside of California. However, every person on this planet should know what to do in an earthquake situation - it is the key to staying alive. Your chances of experiencing an earthquake of intensity VI or greater sometime during your lifetime are fairly good - even if you live in Pennsylvania or New York.

Large earthquakes can cause damage and panic people even when they are epicentered several hundred miles away. Consider these two stories:

First, in 1811-1812, the three largest earthquakes to strike the conterminous United States occurred in the center of the North American plate, near the town of New Madrid, Missouri. One of these earthquakes was so powerful that it rang church bells in Boston, Massachusetts - over 1000 miles away. When (not "if") another earthquake of this magnitude strikes the eastern or central United States, the damages and fatalities will be staggering. This is because in the eastern and central United States, our level of preparedness is low, most of our buildings do not have seismic-resistant design elements, and people do not know how to respond in an earthquake situation.

Secondly, even distant and small earthquakes are a danger to untrained citizens. In October 1992, Egypt was struck by a moderate-size earthquake. Over 100 children were killed by this earthquake even though the schools in which they died were not seriously damaged. These children were killed by the feet of their classmates in panic-stricken stampedes. A small amount of training and proper supervision may have been able to save many of these lives.

Everyone needs to realize that certain parts of our planet are subject to severe and repeated earthquake activity - special efforts need to be taken in these areas when planning communities, designing structures, and educating citizens about the events that they will likely experience.

This does not mean that the remainder of our planet is immune from earthquakes. Even in areas where the probability of a damaging earthquake is low, a powerful earthquake could strike next week. Or, vibrations from an earthquake hundreds of miles away could cause strong ground motion, death, or destruction. The best solution is to know how to survive during the ground shaking of an earthquake - this is because even small earthquakes can be deadly to ignorant populations.

The aerial photograph at the top of this page is of the San Andreas Fault Zone near San Bernardino, California. The image was obtained from the National Earthquake Information Center (NEIC) and Hobart King of Mansfield University added the animation. The NEIC provides real-time monitoring of earthquake activity worldwide and is the foremost agency in the field of earthquake science.