Quake cottage shakes like real deal

Ariana van den Akker/The Herald
Southridge Middle School eighth-graders Kayla Mundy, left, and Taylor Scott experienced what an earthquake feels like in a simulator that visited the Huntingburg school Tuesday. Students experienced magnitude 3, 5.5 and 7 earthquakes in the traveling simulator after learning about earthquake preparedness. “It was fun,” Taylor said after the experience. “But I wouldn’t want it to actually happen.”

Herald Staff Writer

HUNTINGBURG — Four sixth-grade students held on tightly to their seats as the ground beneath them shook violently, cabinets slammed open and shut, and books and knickknacks threatened to crash to the floor.

When the earthquake finished, Cameron Barkley, Audra Hochgesang, Sierra Patberg and Evie Sherer of Southridge Middle School emerged from a trailer surprised and shaken up.

“I almost face-planted into a seat!” Sierra said as four more of her classmates headed into the trailer Tuesday to get jostled around.

“My brains were scrambled!” Evie exclaimed.

The Southridge students had just finished a ride on one of the only two publicly available earthquake simulators in the nation. The Quake Cottage program is a traveling educational experience put on by the Indiana Geological Survey with the support of the state Homeland Security agency. The small unit, which is mounted on springs attached to a double-axle trailer, is decorated to look like a regular living room with drawers, bookshelves and trinkets inside. Patrons can sit in chairs in the trailer as a motor shakes it to match the intensity of quakes with magnitudes of 3 — the weakest that humans can feel, 5.5 and 7 — the strongest possible in Indiana.

“On the 3.0, I thought it was no big deal, but then the 5.5 got a little scary,” Evie said. She and her friends agreed that the simulation was a fun way to learn about earthquakes but that the same experience would not be fun if it happened in real life.

“It’s hard to think of this ground moving like that,” she said, pointing to the parking lot beneath her feet. “I was thinking of Japan and Haiti. It scared me.”

Ariana van den Akker/The Herald
Southridge High School freshman Cynthia Robertson laughed as she experienced what it was like to be on the floor during an earthquake while in a simulator that visited the school campus Tuesday.

Other kids could stand outside the trailer and watch through a window as their friends were flung harder and harder in their seats. The forward to backward motion of the trailer mimics that of the ground during an earthquake.

All of the Southridge high school and middle schools students cycled through the trailer, but first they were required to attend an educational session to learn about the hazards of earthquakes and how to prepare themselves. Indiana Geological Survey educational outreach coordinator Walter Gray said the cottage is not intended to be a carnival ride, but rather a tool to show Hoosiers the dangers of a natural disaster that is more likely to happen in the Midwest than many people think.

“All of our earthquakes since 1817 have been no higher than a 4.9, but in the last 12,000 years, we’ve had five magnitude 7s,” he said. “When you talk about earthquakes in Indiana, a lot of the people are like, ”˜I’ve felt an earthquake before. I’m not really worried about it.’ There’s a lot of complacency when it comes to that point. If I talk about tornadoes or flooding, they pay attention to that because they’ve experienced it.”

Gray said that a Midwestern earthquake has the potential to cause much more damage than those that occur in California.

“When an earthquake occurs out there (in California), the seismic waves move out in all directions, but the energy dies out really quickly, so it’s not going to damage a big area,” he explained. “In Indiana and the whole Midwest, our rocks are really flat, they’re dense and they’re relatively cool, and that allows the seismic wave to hold onto its energy for much longer so you’re going to get a lot bigger damage area.”

Ariana van den Akker/The Herald
Walter Gray of the Indiana Geological Survey in Bloomington, bottom right, explained that he was increasing the intensity of an earthquake simulator at the Southridge school campus Tuesday while Southridge Middle School eighth-graders Jace Fisher, left, Joscelyn Blanchard and Brody Voegerl reacted to the experience of feeling the quake.

Before the students rode in the trailer, Gray’s business partner, Polly Sturgeon, led them through a presentation on earthquake safety. When the ground begins to shake, find a safe place to hide and protect your head, she said.

“You always have to drop and cover yourself so you would be safe,” sixth-grader Wendy Rivera said.

Sturgeon also told the groups to keep an earthquake disaster kit filled with first aid supplies, medicines, extra money, a hand-powered radio, water, blankets and other needs. She instructed the students to talk to their family members about setting an outdoor meeting location to reunite after a quake, but warned that if they are indoors when the shaking starts they should stay there for the duration to avoid falling bricks or shingles.

She advised the schools to sign up for the Great Central U.S. ShakeOut, a regional earthquake drill that will take place Oct. 17. Cedar Crest Intermediate School, Forest Park Junior-Senior High School and Lincoln Trail Elementary School already have registered for the event.

Contact Claire Moorman at cmoorman@dcherald.com.

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