Indiana State University Newsroom

Earthquake simulator to make stop at Indiana State April 29

April 16, 2015

Forecasting is available for a variety natural disasters -- hurricanes, tornadoes, snow storms -- but one of the most dangerous and destructive events could strike at any moment and without notice.

"We're experiencing earthquakes all of the time -- it's just a matter of how significant they are and whether they're causing any problems," said Tony Rathburn, professor of geology at Indiana State University. "We can't see them coming, unlike the storms where you can get some type of warning. When you live in an earthquake-prone area, you recognize this is the equivalent of a storm you can't see and can cause major damage and disruption of all sorts of things. You really need to be prepared for that."

Fortunately, a visit by the Indiana Geological Society's Quake Cottage provides the opportunity for those in the Wabash Valley to become better informed -- and prepared.

"This is one way we can begin to educate people about earthquakes, how they happen, why they happen, in addition to the consequences and the real power that is generated by an earthquake," said Michelle Bennett, program administrator of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Indiana State. "Earthquakes are definitely in our future. Here on this campus and all around the Midwest, we are just not really prepared for a significant earthquake."

The simulator is free and open to the public (children must meet height requirements and have parental permission) 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. April 29 at Wolf Field on the Indiana State campus.

"You're basically sitting in a living room chair looking at living room scenery, and then the whole room starts to shake. As you're experience this simulated earthquake, the (expert) is telling you about the history and science of earthquakes in the region," Rathburn said.

The magnitudes in the simulator start at 3.0 and increase to 7.0. By comparison, the earthquake that struck Japan in 2011 was a 9.0.

"The seismic scale is a logarithmic one, but the energy released each time you go up a number intensifies 32 times. An earthquake of magnitude 4.0 releases 32 times the energy a 3.0 does, so a magnitude 5 releases over 1000 times the energy -- 32 times 32 -- of a magnitude three and so forth up the scale," Rathburn said.

And the next big earthquake could strike the Wabash Valley, he said, as some scientists theorize the stress that caused earthquakes in the prolific New Madrid Seismic Zone has shifted toward the Wabash Valley Seismic Zone.

"The Midwest is second only to the West Coast in terms of earthquake hazard, so we need to be prepared better than we are," Rathburn said. "It's important for students to understand that as well. When they feel an actual earthquake, it's much different than any descriptions or pictures (they see in class)."

Rathburn said all earth science majors are encouraged to attend, as are students living in residence halls. Information about preparing an earthquake disaster kit and history of the area's earthquakes will be available.

"Some of the same things you need to do for an earthquake, you need to do for other natural disasters," he said. "Being prepared for those kinds of things is useful."

Indiana State has a seismic monitoring station, but the wiring was disabled during recent renovations to the Science Building, Rathburn said. He's working to get the system, which feeds to a real-time monitor in a hall display case, running again soon.

The earthquake simulator is sponsored by the university's earth and environmental systems department and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.


Photo: -- Indiana State University students and Osher Lifelong Learning Institute members participate in the Indiana Geological Society's Quake Cottage in 2012.

Contact: Tony Rathburn, professor of geology at Indiana State, 812-237-2269 or

Writer: Libby Roerig, media relations assistant director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or