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IMC Class Creates Campaign Advocating for Earthquake Preparedness

By Natalie Knox, Anna Rice Gables, Molly Ayers, and Benjamin Arebalo
School of Journalism and New Media Students

For decades, UM Civil Engineering Professor Christopher Mullen has wondered how different campus buildings might hold up during a major local earthquake.

Logo courtesy of Kristen Swain.

This semester, he and his students are analyzing computer models in his structural integrity class to help UM better prepare for a quake. Also this fall, an integrated marketing communication class recently launched a social media campaign called “Hotty Toddy Shakeout” on behalf of the Disaster Resilience Flagship Constellation to educate the campus about earthquake preparedness.

Journalism associate professor Kristen Swain, IMC 205 course instructor and Disaster Resilience Flagship Constellation steering committee member, said at 10:17 a.m. Thursday millions of people worldwide will participate in The Great Shakeout drill, to learn how to respond when a quake hits.

“Everyone is advised to stop, drop and hold on,” Swain said. “Raising awareness about this is important because few people here seem concerned about earthquakes. After all, we haven’t had a major quake in the state in almost 100 years.”

In 1994, Mullen led a Federal Emergency Management Association study at the University of Mississippi to test the vulnerability of various buildings. Through computer simulations, his research team tested eight structures of various ages, architectural designs, materials, and construction methods.

The buildings they tested were Stockard-Martin Hall, Crosby Hall, the Lyceum, the old Student Union, Tad Smith Coliseum, Eastgate Bridge, and the campus water tower. Mullen published the findings in a Science Direct article titled, “Seismic response interaction between subsurface geology and selected facilities at the University of Mississippi.”

The study was extremely detailed and thorough because it was supported by outside funding, he said. 

The university does conduct hazard mitigation planning required by FEMA. According to the FEMA website, this planning process is a way to “identify the risks and vulnerabilities associated with natural disasters and develop long-term strategies for protecting people and property from future hazard events.”

Mullen, an associate professor who has worked at UM for 23 years, is a member of the Disaster Resilience Flagship Constellation steering committee. One of the constellation’s goals is to “reduce the impact of disasters on communities in our area,” he said.

To determine the strength and resilience of a building’s foundation, Mullen looks at the bones of the building, such as the metal posts that hold the outside walls at Carrier Hall.

“The new style of construction is different from the old style,” he said. Even though new buildings tend to have more enforced building codes than older ones, this does not necessarily mean that one building is more vulnerable than another.

As long as campus buildings are “well maintained,” they can be just as foundationally sound as brand-new buildings, he said. Mullen said the soil at the university is good, which is an important consideration when building earthquake-resistant structures.

“Good soil means it can provide better anchorage, thus more stability for the structures built on top of it,” he said.

Swain said throughout this semester, the “Hotty Toddy Shakeout” campaign will include student-produced educational content on the campaign’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to encourage everyone to become adequately prepared for a potential earthquake.

For more information about the local earthquake preparedness campaign, visit “shakeout” on Twitter and Instagram or “Hotty Toddy Shakeout” on Facebook. For more information about the Oct. 17 Great Shakeout drill, follow this link. 

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