Earthquake simulator jolts Juneau residents with white-knuckle ride

Alaska’s Earthquake Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks had recorded more than 25,000 earthquakes this year, according to researchers on Monday.

They’re not all big ones, but emergency planners want Alaskans to be prepared and have been taking an earthquake simulator on tour to that end.

The Alaska Division of Homeland Security and the Juneau Local Emergency Planning Committee hosted the event.

Homeland Security’s spokesman Jeremy Zidek, distributed information and talked to curious onlookers about earthquake and emergency preparedness.

“It’s exciting to bring the earthquake simulator down here,” Zidek said. “Folks in Southeast are vulnerable to earthquakes and it’s really a unique experience for people to feel a strong earthquake and then get some earthquake education and determine what they should do in a real earthquake.”

Zidek hopes the simulator is able to raises awareness and encourage people to prepare for a potential quake.

“When the shaking starts — real shaking starts, they’ll be able think back to the earthquake event and do the recommended earthquake safety action, which is drop, cover and hold on,” he said.

Children and adults took turns in the four-seat simulator throughout Wednesay. The simulator, which is housed on a trailer attached to a truck, lunges back-and-forth with the ferocity of a mechanical bull.

A securely-mounted television screen shows earthquake footage.

There are no seatbelts or safety harnesses in the truck. Participants just had a handle, a seat and for some, a white-knuckle death grip while the surroundings shook out of control in a simulated 7.1 magnitude earthquake.

It’s fun, if that’s the word for 30 seconds of fear.

Steve Masterman, the state geologist and director of Alaska’s Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys, said Alaska experiences a significant amount of quakes.

“The exact percentage I’m not sure, but there’s significant number of earthquakes measured or recorded in Alaska every year. I think the number is up in the 30- to 40,000 range.”

A couple of major factors contribute to the number of quakes in Alaska, size is one. But the state’s location is also significant.

“The southern boundary of the state where the Pacific Ocean is a plate boundary,” Masterman said. “So the two plates – the North American and the Pacific plate are moving relative to each other and moving past each other pretty much along the entire southern shore of the state. So that’s a very long plate boundary.”

Masterman says the 49th state also has a series of faults, which are cracks in the Earth’s crust.

Those plates and faults create lots of motions and generate lots of quakes.

The earthquake simulator will be in downtown Juneau outside the Alaska State Library, Archives and Museum and in the KTOO parking lot Wednesday and Thursday.

The simulator and a fire safety house is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The event also features booths, presentations and free hotdogs and drinks prepared by the disaster mobile kitchen.