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Why damage control is behind the curve

"Most people aren't mentally conditioned to handle an earthquake down there. It would result in chaos."

Chuck Cotton, Commissioner of the Department of Housing Buildings and Construction in Kentucky, says that all buildings reconstructed or raised after 1996 meet the safety standards, but he could not say what percentage of buildings in Kentucky do not meet the earthquake code. "Half the counties in Kentucky don't have building inspectors, and that makes it hard to enforce the building code," Cotton says. He also tells Insure.com that the most vulnerable structures are single-family dwellings because they are the hardest on which to enforce the code.

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Public awareness remarkably low

State insurance departments and insurance companies are slowly starting to spread the message that a disaster is possible.

Public-awareness campaigns are far behind.

Officials from the Departments of Insurance in the New Madrid states have started addressing the lack of public awareness with earthquake task forces in cooperation with Departments of Emergency Management. However, keeping the public aware of the earthquake risk is difficult. "There's still a lot to be done," says Gelonda Casey, Earthquake Mitigation Coordinator at the Kentucky Division of Emergency Management. "There are so many things going that people lose sight of the earthquake threat."

Other state institutions are playing catch up, but is it enough? "The state Departments of Transportation have done some significant retrofittings of some major bridges in [the seismic zone]," says Padgett of Kentucky's Division of Earthquake Management. However, Padgett admits that there's always more that can be done, but that depends on how much money is allocated by the government and what the private sector is doing to alleviate its own risk.

"We're so far behind on the [public-awareness] curve here because this area of the country has had a lot of growth without an earthquake, and the [building] codes have been lax, and there hasn't been much research in this area," says Cotton. "We're only talking the last 20 to 25 years that groups have really started moving in the direction of protecting the public."

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