MEMPHIS - Tennessee's first commission devoted to dealing with a major earthquake is scheduled to begin reviewing disaster preparations next month.
The West Tennessee Seismic Safety Commission was established after concerns over the state's ability to respond to a natural disaster mounted following Hurricane Katrina.
The 12-member commission can accept grants, hire experts, make recommendations and review building codes, disaster preparations and public-education efforts. Most of the appointees are from Shelby County, representing professional fields ranging from architecture to insurance to public utilities.
"The governor's given us a lot of latitude to do whatever it is we need to do," said Scott Fleming, president of Fleming Associates Architects in Memphis.
Much of West Tennessee faces potential hazards from the New Madrid Fault, a geological break line at the center of one of the most active earthquake zones in the United States.
The fault produces hundreds of small quakes annually, most of which are too weak for most people to notice. But scientists say a damaging New Madrid quake could occur at any time.
Commission appointee Ted Fox, public works director for Shelby County, said it's time to look at the public building codes.
Local building codes didn't require designs to resist earthquake forces until 1992.
"They need to be reviewed and strengthened," Fox said. Two years ago, Memphis and Shelby County adopted changes requiring all new "essential facilities" to be constructed to the updated seismic standards of the 2003 International Building Code.
"We need to be proactive about what happens, not reactive," said Clifford DeBerry, director of analysis, strategy and performance at Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division. (AP) Information from: The Commercial Appeal, http://www.commercialappeal.com AP-CS-04-29-07 2009EDT
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