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Q & A: Claude Talford

Director of the Memphis/Shelby County Emergency Management Agency

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Imagine a New Madrid earthquake that causes a large oil or chemical spill in the Great Lakes region. That's what emergency response officials envisioned last week during a conference at the Marriott Hotel downtown.

The officials were planning for the first Spill of National Significance (SONS) drill for an inland region, scheduled for June. Until now, the exercise has been held every three years, but always in coastal regions, and is usually based on an imaginary marine vessel casualty.

This time, however, the "spill" will be triggered by a major earthquake on the New Madrid fault line. The drill will test emergency response plans in 13 states. Here in Memphis, Claude Talford, director of the Memphis/Shelby County Emergency Management Agency, will lead operations. -- by Bianca Phillips

Flyer: During the drill, what will happen here?

Talford: We haven't decided that yet. That's what this conference was all about. It's one step in many to develop the logistics on how everybody's going to play.

Will there be anything that citizens will see?

We don't know if this will be a full-scale drill or just a tabletop.

What's the difference?

[The tabletop drill is] where you get representatives from the different agencies in a big room and go over what we would do. In a full-scale exercise, you'd actually be getting people out on the street in police cars and you'd get volunteers to act as victims.

And you need a grant to do a full-scale exercise?

For an operation this big, we would have to pull a lot of responders and we would need to field those positions. We don't want to tie up the patrolmen. I don't know how many people it would require because we've never done anything on this scale. This is getting into new territory.

In case of a real earthquake, what would happen?

There would be a lot if liquefaction in the downtown area. Liquefaction is when the soil bubbles up and liquefies, causing shifting building foundations.

Depending on how long the shake and how intense the shake, there could be some landslides triggered on the bluff. The un-reinforced masonry buildings could crumble. There could be bridges that fall.

What about emergency responders?

The first thing that our responders are going to do is check to find out who is injured and try to get them help. Then the fire departments would ride through the neighborhoods and do what they call a windshield survey to see the conditions and report back to main communications if it's up and running.

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