Major Survivability Concerns in Arkansas: An Ongoing Story

David B. South Invited to Speak About Earthquake Survival

May 12, 2006: Terry Gray, State Hazard Mitigation Officer and Mitigation Branch Chief for the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management (ADEM) sent an email to more than a dozen State and/or education administrators in Arkansas and to David B. South, president of Monolithic.

In it, Mr. Gray explained that during the past six years his department oversaw more than $50,000,000 in grant programs that funded more than 80 community safe rooms, mostly in schools.

Unfortunately, the Iraq war and recent hurricanes reduced these Mitigation grant funds by a whooping 66 2/3 percent.

But Mr. Gray said, “This does not stop schools from wanting to provide protection for their students. I receive several calls each week from school Superintendents wanting a grant for a safe room. The money is not available anymore, and so I have become very interested in cheaper and more energy efficient ways to provide protection for school children in our state.”

He then cited and said, “I would ask that you review very closely the information found at this website. I believe this concept could be an answer to the growing need for protected areas in our schools.”

The email ended with an invitation to a June 15th in-depth discussion of disaster survivability, that included a presentation by David B. South — the only invited guest speaker.

A Drive to Blytheville

June 14, 2006: David left Italy, Texas that Wednesday afternoon and drove to Blytheville, Arkansas, an agricultural and manufacturing community of about 18,300 people, living just south of Arkansas’ northeast corner where their state meets two others: Missouri and Tennessee.

Blytheville, founded in 1879 by Henry T. Blythe, a Methodist circuit rider who established its first post office, now prides itself as the spot “Where Southern Hospitality Begins!”

David easily found and registered at Blytheville’s Holiday Inn, the site of the next day’s meeting.

The Meeting

June 15, 2006: “I went into that conference early because I wanted to see what was going on,” David said. “And I’m really glad that I did.

“There were about 50 people there, all intensely discussing earthquake survivability — and that was just fine but not what I had expected. So I did a bit of tailoring of my presentation. I wanted my slideshow and information to address their major concern.”

An Earthquake History

David learned that Terry Gray had specific reasons for selecting Blytheville for this meeting. The town sits on the southern portion of the New Madrid Fault Zone (NMFZ) in the Mississippi Alluvial Plain. That location is less than 50 miles south of New Madrid, Missouri, the epicenter of what writers and reporters had dubbed “The Great New Madrid Earthquakes.”

In a recent interview conducted by Today’s THV KTHV Little Rock, Gary Patterson, an earthquake expert with the U.S. Geological Survey talked about NMFZ. He said that “unlike faults in California, the New Madrid Seismic Zone contains three to five major fault segments lying over the top of each other in a relatively small area.”

Patterson described that zone as stretching from northeast Arkansas and northwest Tennessee up into southeast Missouri, far western Kentucky and southern Illinois.

He stressed that the nature of the soil and the fault itself create a potential of “catastrophic damage from a quake that registers even as low as a six-point-five magnitude.”

New Madrid’s history, dating back to the 1800s, includes thousands of mild rumblings, majority of which were hardly noticed. But in 1811, NMFZ experienced three Great Earthquakes with magnitudes of 8.3, 8.4 and 8.6. Two other Great Earthquakes followed in 1812. The rumbling and shaking occurred intermittently and sporadically over a period of several months and, in the process, swallowed houses, gardens and fields, sank large areas, formed new lakes and redirected the Mississippi River. But because the area was then sparsely populated, fatalities and damages were low.

Danger Awareness

“It’s no longer like that,” David said, “and the folks at that meeting were very aware of that. I was really surprised at their intensity. They are convinced that another big earthquake is going to happen. Scientific and historic data tells them that the New Madrid has a major earthquake every 200 years, and the last great ones happened in 1811 and 1812. So for them, it’s not a matter of if but when. They see massive problems, so they’re trying to prepare.”

Terry Gray told David that currently one Arkansas school has a bid on the table for a new safe room. He described it as a concrete box with two bathrooms. Its construction costs about $205 per square foot. On the other hand, Monolithic builds complete schools for less than $120 per square foot.

A Follow-up Call

June 22, 2006: We called Terry Gray to ask his permission to quote from his email invitation in this article. He agreed and added, “My plan, as far as Monolithic Domes are concerned, is to continue making our customers aware that this design is a viable, cost-effective, energy-efficient design that they should consider. So any schools that contact me — or any of our other customers that contact me — asking about safe rooms, I’ll make it a point to let them know that Monolithic Domes are an option that is worthy of consideration.”

Another Invitation

As a result of his June 15th presentation in Blytheville, David received a second invitation.

July 7, 2006: Kathy Botsford, Director of the Pulaski County Office of Emergency Management, sent David an email asking him to address the Local Emergency Planning Committee for Pulaski County — Arkansas’ most densely populated county.

This conference was scheduled for October 18, 2006 at the Arkansas State Police Headquarters in Little Rock, and of course David agreed to participate.

According to Ms. Botsford, the conference’s 50 or so attendees will include local industry and first responders (police, fire and EMS), mayors of various municipalities and, if available, representatives of U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln and Congressman Vic Snyder.

More Interest in Monolithic Domes

Tucked inside the Ozarks close to the northwest corner of Arkansas, Green Forest has a population of less than 3000 residents and a land area of just 2.3 square miles.

July 17, 2006: David talked with Superintendent Dr. Larry Bennett and the School Board of this small community about the advantages of Monolithic Domes.

In its July 24 edition, the Carroll County News featured a front page article about the meeting. It said that Dr. Bennett was interested in Monolithic Domes because of their “long-term energy usage.”

The article also reported that on July 19 “school board members and administrators toured a facility with two monolithic dome structures at a school in Beggs, Okla. They looked at the structure, the efficiency, their outside appearance, and the energy usage of the buildings….”

The State of Arkansas approved Green Forest’s plans for a new middle school and will provide 57 percent of the funding if voters approve a needed tax increase in September.

The AEMA 2006 Conference

August 30 to September 1, 2006: David B. South, Judy, David’s wife, and Anne Sutherland, Monolithic’s Events Coordinator, traveled to the Wyndham Riverfront Hotel in North Little Rock, Arkansas. Their goal: the Arkansas Emergency Management Association’s Conference.

Two hundred seventy-three other attendees, mainly from Arkansas, but a few from Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Tennessee joined them there. They included national, state and county representatives from various groups and organizations, all of whom were primarily interested in safety and disaster preparedness.

“Most of those at this conference were somehow involved in handling or preventing emergencies,” David said. “They were 911 coordinators, police and fire chiefs, first responders. Many are involved in Homeland Security and preparedness for everything from natural disasters and terrorism attacks to Pandemic Flu, the movement of radioactive materials and even emergency animal care.

“It was a unique group of professionals — all very aware of the dangers facing us — and all looking for answers and solutions,” he added.

The Conference’s three days were chock-full of group meetings and presentations, including the keynote speech by Jason Jackson, Wal-Mart’s Director of Business Continuity, and talks by FEMA, the National Weather Service and two by David.

He said, “In my presentations, I showed slides and told them how Monolithic Domes could provide one of the answers they were seeking: a safe haven from most natural disasters that could be built at an affordable price.

“I was addressing folks who knew that Arkansas has 27 counties that are in an extreme earthquake zone,” David said. “We discussed how with a hurricane we usually have about a five-day notice. If a tornado is expected, the area is usually warned hours before it’s expected and at least fifteen minutes before it actually hits. But an earthquake usually just happens — absolutely no notice, no warning — instantaneous disaster.

“So—bottom line — you want your kids in a school that can handle an earthquake, such as a Monolithic Dome. And we can build a truly safe school for $110 to $125 per square foot. They’re getting quotes for the construction of disaster shelters — not schools — for $205 per square foot.”

While David did his presentations and mingled, Anne set up and hosted Monolithic’s exhibit booth, one of about 50 vendor booths at this conference.

She said, “We had a really great response. This was the nicest group of people. They were hospitable and welcoming and very open to new ideas. I met and talked with many and passed out a lot of Monolithic literature and info.”

Anne was particularly pleased when Terry Gray, the Arkansas State Hazard Mitigation Officer who first asked David to participate in a conference, began bringing people over and introducing them to her.

“Mr. Gray brought Janet Huckabee, Arkansas’ First Lady, over to our booth,” Anne said. “She stayed for about 15 minutes and we talked. Her main goal is to have safe schools or safe areas for children to be in during earthquakes, hurricanes and tornadoes. And that’s Terry Gray’s main objective too, so we talked a lot.

“Ms. Huckabee told me about a particular school she wanted me to contact. She seems to be right out there with her thumb on the pulse of the people. She took our business cards, a DVD and some literature. I showed her pictures of Dome of a Home and she fell in love with it. That was the highlight of my day,” Anne concluded.

A Disappointing Election in Green Forest, Arkansas

September 19, 2006: The bond proposal that would have made it possible for Green Forest to build a Monolithic Dome school failed by just 25 votes.

“But this is not a dead issue,” said School Superintendent Dr. Larry Bennett. “The School Board will be revisiting it next spring. In Arkansas, we can have only one bond election per year, so we have to wait until 2007.

“However, there are some variables that enter into this,” Bennett cautioned. “We have to reapply. The State of Arkansas was going to give us 57 percent of the cost of this project. There is no guarantee that we will get that again. It might be less. It might be more. So whatever the Board does will depend on what the State does. But at this point, the Board has not wavered about wanting a dome school. In fact, we have meetings planned with Michael McCoy, the architect we selected who also did the Monolithic Dome school in Beggs, Oklahoma.”

The Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) Conference

October 18, 2006: David participated in the LEPC Conference both as a guest speaker and as a listener. He said, “Arkansas is developing a program for a pandemic situation, and I think that’s really good. I listened to the other presentations.”

One of those speakers was Beth Montgomery, Wal-Mart’s Senior Manager of Emergency Management, Mobile Security Division. She discussed Wal-Mart’s preplanning and their response, should a disaster occur.

Others tackled the problem of evacuation. “They did a lot of research,” David said, “and concluded that a counter-flow plan for Arkansas’ freeways and highways is not a good idea.” (In a counter-flow plan, all lanes of a highway are used for traffic going in the same direction.)

“Counter-flow was used in evacuating Houston when Hurricane Rita struck,” David said. “But LEPC decided that counter-flow in Arkansas would only get even more people hurt or killed because there are so many hiddy-holes — little, off-the-main-road places — that people would want to get to.”

David came away from this conference feeling optimistic. He said, “When it comes to preparedness, Arkansas may not be in the lead across the United States, but they’re moving with some serious dispatch to become ready — ready for whatever our future may bring.

“I admire the people at these conferences. I think of them as modern Minute Men and Women. Like our original Minutemen, they have to be ready. And just think about what they’re up against — the mindset of the public. Most folks don’t want to hear about disasters. Many think that because an earthquake hasn’t hit for 200 years, it simply won’t. And they are so wrong,” he concluded.

A Regional Conference and Another Invitation

This November, Arkansas will host the Regional Mitigation Conference in Eureka Springs. It will include representatives from New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas. Terry Gray has already asked David to be one of the presenters, and David has accepted.

Note: We first presented this article in October 2006. Quoted prices are from that time period.