The risk of serious earthquakes, normally associated with California, is increasingly being found in the central and eastern parts of the country, according to a recently released update to the US National Seismic Hazards Map.

California earthquake

Frequency of earthquakes in the central and eastern U.S

The USGS report notes the frequency of earthquakes in the central and eastern U.S. has increased by 400 percent, to an average of 100 a year during the 2011-2013 period, up from only 20 per year during the 30-year period leading up to 2000. The states most at risk are in Missouri and Illinois, the report said.

“We know the hazard has increased for small and moderate size earthquakes. We don’t know as well how much the hazard has increased for large earthquakes,” William Ellsworth, a scientist with the USGS, was quoted as saying in a Wall Street Journal article.  “Our suspicion is (the potential for large earthquakes has increased) but we are working on understanding this.”

Although reputation dictates otherwise, the Midwest has seen its share of earth moving quakes. The New Madrid seismic zone was the site of massive earthquakes in 1811-1812 that rerouted the Mississippi River, the report noted. “Earthquakes are quite rare in many places but when they happen they cause very intense damage because people have not prepared,” Mark Petersen, project chief for the National Seismic Hazard Project of the U.S. Geological Survey, told Risk & Compliance Journal.

Midwest earthquake insurance

The normally sleepy Midwest is discovering being on a new cutting edge has edge of a new hazard has its cost, particularly when viewed from the standpoint of insurance.

“I worry that we will wake up one morning and see earthquake damage in our country that is as bad as that has occurred in some developing nations that have experienced large earthquakes,” Carl Hedde, head of risk accumulation at Munich Re America, was quoted as saying. “Beyond building collapse, a large amount of our infrastructure could be immediately damaged. Our roads, bridges and energy transmission systems can be severely impacted.”

For its part, one of the nation’s largest retailers is recognizing the issue. “A few weeks ago, we participated in an exercise to prepare for an earthquake on the New Madrid fault line,” Mark Cooper, senior director of emergency management at Walmart, said in an interview with the Journal.