SALINE COUNTY - We are within an earthquake hot zone being between the New Madrid and Wabash Valley fault zones. A powerful earthquake can happen literally any time, but we don't think about it and we most likely are not ready for it.

Saline County Emergency Services and Disaster Agency Coordinator Allan C. Ninness is trying to get the public to prepare and reiterated the need to prepare during a seminar Wednesday at Southeastern Illinois College.

Ninness began talking about Ivan Browning who thought he could predict an earthquake. The date was Dec. 3, 1990. The day came and went, uneventfully, but people paid enough attention many prepared for it.

"Do you think the preparedness level kept going up? No. The preparedness level at home, work and school went down, down and down," Ninness said.

Most of us only think about earthquakes when we feel a tremor. Near Eldorado in January there was a quake measuring 3.4 on the Richter scale that caught people's attention.

"Those little ones should be reminders to us the big one is out there," Ninness said.

One of the first things people need to realize when preparing for "the big one" is that they will probably be stuck on their property for several days and their house may not be safe enough to stay in. Roads may be too damaged to drive on, bridges may be out, there may be no water or electricity and police and firefighters will likely have too much to do to help out.

People will likely be living in tents in their yards. How do people decide on the emergency items to keep in a preparedness kit?

"Move into your front yard for a week and everything you want with you, that's what you need in the kit," Ninness said.

A few necessary items include a flashlight, battery powered radio and plenty of batteries. Ninness said people should keep at least five days supply of food and water, but more is better.

"The area of devastation could be rather large. There could be a 300 mile circle of devastation," Ninness said.

People should not plan on getting any kind of help very soon.

He said everyone needs a family communications plan. They need to know how they will communicate and reunite.

"You might plan to meet back at the house, but may not be able to get to the house so you want a secondary meeting spot," Ninness said.

Families should have an out of state contact so if they are seperated, all family members know to call that person to exchange information. The earthquake could knock out local telephone service, but long distance service may not be interrupted.

People should plan on there being debris, including broken glass, everywhere, so it is a good idea, especially for women who wear heels, to keep an extra pair of sneakers in the trunk of the car.

Ninness said everyone needs to know how to turn off water, gas mains and electrical utilities in the case of a leak. But he said not to shut off the gas unless there is a leak because it may be needed.

Water heaters should be secured to walls. The water heaters could come in quite handy even if the power is off. They contain about 40 gallons of water you may need for drinking.

Bolt woodburning stoves down and keep heavy objects on the lower shelves.

Ninness said people need to pay attention to the objects that are around them in the places they spend most of their time. For many, those places are a desk at an office and in bed.

"I have two bookshelves that are going to fall on me in the basement of the courthouse," Ninness said.

Around beds there are often mirrors and picture frames that could fall on people during the night if they are not firmly secured to walls.

When the quake happens, people should try to seek cover under a desk, bed or in a doorway immediately. Once the shaking stops they should try to get outside which may be easier said than done.

"Debris is going to be everywhere. I imagine walking through this room would be like walking throug a plate full of spaghetti. There is going to be stuff everywhere," Ninness said.

Under the bed is a good place to keep a duffel back of clothing and emergency supplies.

There may be aftershocks. When the shaking is done, people need to check for fire hazards and structural damage after each aftershock. In checking damage it is not a good idea to use candles in the house because of the fire potential, especially in houses using natural gas.

If driving, people will likely only feel a very large earthquake. If so, he said drivers should pull over, get out of traffic and try not to stop under an overpass or under power lines. Stay with the vehicle and listen to the radio for emergency broadcasts.

Ninness said any open containers could contain shards of glass. People can strain liquids through a handkerchief to make sure they don't ingest glass. Food in the refrigerator should be eaten first, freezer second and cupboard third because of the risk of spoiling.

Don't use the telephone except genuine emergency calls, Ninness said. He recalls one local quake that resulted in 911 calls in the thousands.

"It was people calling to ask if it was an earthquake. Don't do that, please. Turn on the radio. Don't pick up the phone and call somebody and say, 'Did you feel that?' It ties up the lines," Ninness said.

Ninness said other don't include rumor spreading and sightseeing following the quake.

Ninness also said emergency crews will be needing and asking for help. People should be prepared to help in whatever way they are needed at that moment.

SIC President Dr. Ray Cummiskey asked for advice on what should be done at the college. It is a large campus and there are many people there at any given time.

Ninness said personnel should be trained on the college's earthquake emergency plan.

"You have to be self-sufficient. Mutual aid has been taken away from us," Ninness said.

"There is a very huge possibility you will have to stay here a while."

Ninness said the college should consider earthquake drills and exercises.

"They are hard to do, it takes time away from class time, but it can also save you," Ninness said.