Students get real life experience with earthquakes


After four students took a seat, the structure began to horizontally sway back and forth.

Then it got a little faster before moving even more.

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At first, the students seemed cool, calm and collected. As it got faster, though, their reactions and emotions changed.

The Indiana Geological Survey at Indiana University recently brought its Quake Cottage to Crothersville Junior-Senior High School. The simulator gave students a better understanding of what an Indiana earthquake could feel like, and they also learned what they need to do if one were to occur.

“I felt nervous because I thought I was going to fly through the window,” seventh-grader Jamie Caudill said.

“It shook a lot. It felt like somebody was shaking me very, very hard,” classmate Caden Lewis said.

Devin Morgan said when the simulator started at a magnitude 3 earthquake, there was a little movement. Then he noticed a big difference at the next couple of levels.

“Then 5 was medium,” he said. “It was weird because it felt like I was shaking really, really hard from 7.”

Seventh-grader Darren Maxie said he experienced a range of emotions.

“I was kind of a little nervous, but not much,” he said. “The shaking, it was pretty cool. That was something else.”

The students agreed it was a beneficial experience.

“It’s good because you know what to expect now, and you know how to protect yourself,” Jamie said. “It’s important because it’s good for safety.”

Polly Root Sturgeon, education outreach coordinator for the Indiana Geological Survey at IU, shared her knowledge of earthquakes with students and talked to them about being prepared. Her assistant, Kimberly Cook, manned the simulator and talked to the students while they were in it.

Sturgeon said earthquakes occur when two tectonic plates hit each other in some way and cause friction, and people feel that as shaking.

Indiana earthquakes, however, are different from ones in California.

“Indiana is not on the boundary of a tectonic plate like California and Alaska and other places,” Sturgeon said. “We’re in the middle of the North American plate.”

Millions of years ago, Sturgeon said North America tried to pull itself apart. By doing so, that caused deep cracks known as faults.

According to the Indiana Geological Survey, Indiana earthquakes that have occurred in the last 200 years are the result of movement along faults that are more than 6 miles below the surface.

Indiana has dozens of faults, and most are in the southwest corner of the state. They extend into Illinois and northern Kentucky and are collectively known as the Wabash Valley Fault System.

“There have been 500 million years of stuff to bury them, but they are down there several thousand feet below where we’re standing,” Sturgeon said. “Those faults are under a lot of pressure, and when they move, that sends out waves of energy, kind of like when you drop a pebble in a pond and it sends out those ripples. That energy travels under our feet. That’s what we feel as shaking.”

The depth of the faults and the nature of the rock layers at that depth make it difficult for seismologists to map earthquake-generating faults using remote-sensing techniques, according to the Indiana Geological Survey.

“Indiana earthquakes are pretty unique,” Sturgeon said. “Only about 5 percent of the earthquakes in the world are kind of like ours.”

Sturgeon said one way to educate the public about earthquakes is with the Quake Cottage.

Everything inside of the simulator is strapped down so one gets hurt, and the window is kept open so others can see inside.

“It’s a safe way to experience an earthquake,” Sturgeon said.

During an earthquake, she said three things to remember are drop, cover and hold on.

“You drop down as quick as you can as soon as you feel shaking,” Sturgeon said. “You take cover under a table, a chair, stick your head under something to protect your head and your neck, and you hold onto it so it doesn’t bounce away from you. You stay under there for as long as it takes until the shaking stops.”

If a person is in a car, Sturgeon said they should pull over and stay in the car until the shaking stops.

After it stops, people should go outside to a previously designated meeting spot, Sturgeon said.

She said people also should make a disaster kit, including food, water, a first aid kit, a battery-powered radio and other things needed to survive, in the event power or water is knocked out.

“I went to Walmart, got a five-gallon bucket, filled it with stuff and it cost $20, and I keep it near the back door of my house,” Sturgeon said. “More likely, I’m going to use it when the next winter ice storm knocks out the power, but if there’s an earthquake, I’m also going to be prepared.”

Sherry Settle, a science teacher at Crothersville, said the Quake Cottage gave her students some knowledge for when the lesson on plate tectonics, earthquakes and volcanoes comes up later in the school year.

“The fact that we as a little school get something like this is a neat idea,” she said. “I think it’s neat for (students) to understand, plus the fact that (Sturgeon) is giving them some preknowledge for when we do the earthquake unit.”

Andy Smith, another science teacher at Crothersville, said the simulator was a great opportunity for the students.

“It’s hands-on, so it’s not bookwork in the seat. It’s something different, so that’s a plus,” he said.

Both teachers liked seeing the students’ reactions while they were in the simulator and also trying it out themselves.

“It looks like it’s no big deal, but when you’re in there, it feels a lot different,” Settle said. “In the beginning, the 3, I was like, ‘You can’t even feel that.’ Then as it went higher, the intensity, it’s like 10 times each number you go up.”

Smith said he couldn’t imagine if he had to deal with an earthquake at home.

“The 3, it wasn’t much, like you were in a rocking chair, but by the time it got to 7, I was like, ‘Wow! I would not want to have this happen to my house,’” he said.

Crothersville already has tornado and fire drills, and the school also will be doing an earthquake drill in October.

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For information about the Indiana Geological Survey at Indiana University’s Quake Cottage program, visit or email [email protected].