Earthquakes in Nebraska? An unlikely but important reason to prepare


Kathryn O’Connor
News Editor

It is estimated that there are 500,000 detectable earthquakes worldwide each year. 100,000 of those can be felt, and 100 of them cause damage, according to U.S. Geological Survey. While unlikely, some earthquakes can be detected in Omaha. Photo courtesy of UNO News Center.

With west coast residents experiencing the majority of earthquakes, it may come as a surprise that earthquakes have been known to happen in the heartland.

While Nebraska has never experienced a major earthquake, the event is not entirely unheard of.

“Fault scarps are all over the place, so Nebraska is not immune, but chances are slim,” said Harmon Maher, Ph.D., professor of geology at UNO. “For us in the Great Plains, it is a bit harder to know earthquake risk because so many young sediments bury and hide the deeper faults.”

Even so, an earthquake doesn’t have to take place in Nebraska for the impacts to be felt. 

In 2016, a 5.6 magnitude earthquake hit Oklahoma with aftershocks that shook structures all the way up to Omaha. Four mild earthquakes hit central Nebraska in 2018 across a two-day period, though no damage was reported.

Unlike many other natural disasters, earthquakes can strike without warning and their severity can vary wildly. Each year in October, multiple states and countries participate in the “Great ShakeOut,” which serves as a unified earthquake preparedness drill. 

This year’s event took place on the morning of Thursday, Oct. 20, with schools, businesses and cities all encouraged to use the time to participate in their own drills. 

“Even though Nebraska is not at the top of the list for earthquakes, there is never a bad time to make sure you are prepared to respond to a significant hazard,” said Diane Mack, UNO’s emergency management director. “The same resources and skill sets that would be utilized after an earthquake would be needed in the aftermath of other major hazards such as a tornado or building collapse.”

This year, Emergency Management encouraged the UNO campus to get involved and stay informed about crisis response planning. 

To join the national conversation and help keep themselves prepared for a potential disaster, students can visit the UNO emergency notification website to learn more about UNOAlert.