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Health, Science & Environment

Preparedness still key 2 years after Utah’s largest earthquake

Photo of rubble on sidewalk.
Brian Albers / KUER
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Friday marked the second anniversary of the 5.7 magnitude earthquake that hit Magna and shook northern Utah.

In the last two years, the state has created a website on earthquake resources and released a plan for unreinforced masonry buildings on the Wasatch Front. These kinds of brick buildings, with few or no steel reinforcing bars, are the biggest earthquake hazard according to a 2021 FEMA report.

One hundred and nineteen public school campuses in Utah were identified in a separate state report to have at least one unreinforced masonry building across 28 districts.

Wade Mathews, a Be Ready Utah program manager in the Utah Division of Emergency Management, said they are working with the money the state legislature allocated to help schools.

“We are still in the process of repairing and mitigating infrastructure around the state, some school buildings have already been retrofitted [and] seismically upgraded,” Mathews said.

But the 2021 FEMA report said there are about 140,000 buildings across the Wasatch Front that need work.

Aimee Maxwell lived in an old brick home in Salt Lake City when the earthquake hit in 2020. She said she thought her house was going to collapse and didn’t know what to do. She sat on her driveway refreshing Twitter to see updates on the situation.

“I grew up in the Midwest so I never really gave much thought to the earthquakes like I know about tornadoes,” Maxwell said. “I know how to prepare for those. But I hadn't, up until that point, I never really considered the earthquake risk in Salt Lake.”

Maxwell said a friend moved after the earthquake because of the structural damage to her home in Liberty Wells.

"She could not sleep at night, she didn't want to have to ever deal with that again because their chimney collapsed," she said.

As she thinks about the anniversary, Maxwell realizes she needs to be more prepared for an emergency.

Wade Mathews wants people to reflect on their response to the first earthquake to better prepare for the next. He said Utah averages about 1,200 small earthquakes a year.

He advises to stop, drop and hold on in an earthquake and not to run into or out of buildings. Mathews said Utah is expected to experience a 6.5-7.0 earthquake in the next 50 years.


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