South Carolina

Program shows S.C. earthquake risks, hazards

College of Charleston students Lance Foxworth, left, and Dante Curcio, right, worked on an online program and walking tour that would educate South Carolinians on earthquakes and hazard preparedness. College of Charleston geology professor Norman Levine, center, oversaw their work last summer.
College of Charleston students Lance Foxworth, left, and Dante Curcio, right, worked on an online program and walking tour that would educate South Carolinians on earthquakes and hazard preparedness. College of Charleston geology professor Norman Levine, center, oversaw their work last summer. awilks@thestate.com

Three College of Charleston students have created an online program that would educate and prepare South Carolina residents for earthquakes, especially in high-risk parts of the state.

Lance Foxworth, Dante Curcio and Griffin Scott, all undergraduates at the downtown Charleston college, worked last summer to build an online slide show explaining how earthquakes happen and how residents should respond to them. They also created a walking tour through Charleston that illustrates the devastating 1886 earthquake at roughly two dozen stops in the city.

“We need to be as prepared as possible for the next big earthquake,” Curcio said Thursday in Columbia while presenting the project during a Geological Society of America conference, “because it will come.”

The students’ work, paid for by the state Emergency Management Division, is important because of South Carolina’s earthquake risk, their professor said.

“People in South Carolina do not realize that South Carolina has a fairly good-sized risk,” said Norman Levine, a College of Charleston geology professor and director of the Lowcountry Hazards Center. “And that risk isn’t just for a 7.0 (magnitude) earthquake. A 7.0, yes, is not going to happen in our lifetimes, more than likely ... but if a 5.0 or a 5.5 does happen, which is markedly smaller, it’s still going to do massive amounts of damage in that region.”

The state experiences between two and five felt earthquakes per year, but those typically are between 2.0 and 4.5 magnitudes, according to the students’ team. The most recent notable earthquake came in February 2012, when a 4.1 magnitude quake centered near Edgefield could be felt throughout South Carolina and Georgia.

The 1886 Charleston quake was in the neighborhood of a 7.0 magnitude and is considered the most damaging earthquake to shake the southeastern United States.

The students’ program is already in use in some home school, high school and college classrooms in South Carolina, Levine said. Some introductory geology classes at College of Charleston are using the program and taking the walking tour through the city, Foxworth said.

“It’s basically a chapter of a textbook,” Levine said.

Foxworth said they expect more people to become aware of the program as other teachers start to use it.

“It will educate countless numbers of people on what to do during an earthquake, what to do after, what to do before an earthquake,” Curcio said. “And it will also teach people about the geology of the world they live in. Anyone who lives in South Carolina, if they look at our story map, they’ll be able to know what’s going on under the surface of the earth, maybe have a better understanding of why earthquakes happen. And throwing in all that information on the 1886 earthquake puts into perspective how damaging an earthquake truly can be.

“Once you have that ‘Wow,’ factor, that ‘Oh, no,’ factor, that’s what gets people to truly understand and comprehend what’s going on.”

For now, the program already is paying dividends for the students.

Curcio, a senior majoring in geology, said the work last summer helped him earn a full ride to graduate school at Indiana University.

Avery G. Wilks: 803-771-8362, @averygwilks

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