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Earthquake Scenario Aimed at Promoting Preparedness

Courtesy: Utah Division of Emergency Management
The Utah Division of Emergency Management operates a command center tucked below the state Capitol building that would be used to coordinate the state's response to earthquakes and other large-scale disasters.

Northern Utah is due for a major earthquake. Seismologists can’t predict exactly when the Big One might happen, but they have been looking at the hazards Utah is likely to face. 

Bob Carey, Utah’s top earthquake planner, reads from a new report on the affects of a magnitude 7 earthquake along the 220-mile Wasatch Fault.

It’s based on a hazard tool from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that quantifies how such an earthquake could devastate Utah’s busiest communities. Eight-foot land fractures along the fault from Draper to North Salt Lake; homes and business cut off from water, power, heating and sewers; and thousands of Utahns injured or killed. Carey says the economic tally could reach thirty-three billion dollars and recovery could take a long time.

“It’s, it’s, it’s scary,” he says. “That’s what makes it scary. And this is the heart of the state. This is where the most population is, where most things are happening economically, and that’s the place that’s getting hit.”

The U.S. Geological Survey released its own study this month that puts Utah behind California and Washington state for having the highest ground-shaking risk in the nation. Carey says the new Utah study is intended to guide the public and decision-makers in preparing for a big earthquake.

“Our idea is it will spur some pre-even activity, some mitigation happening at maybe a better rate than we’ve been seeing,” he says.

Utah Seismic Safety Commission officials have asked to meet with Governor Gary Herbert to discuss the report’s findings and recommendations. The earthquake commission also wants to put its report in the hands of state lawmakers.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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