Opinion: Another reminder to prepare for Utah’s next big earthquake
The 6.4-magnitude quake that hit California on Tuesday should make everyone look around and imagine what their world would look like if something similar happened here
By Jay Evensen Dec 20, 2022, 4:22pm GMT-8
Early Tuesday morning, a 6.4-magnitude earthquake struck Northern California, near the small town of Ferndale.
Every time something like this happens, people along Utah’s Wasatch Front need to look around and imagine what their world would be like after a similar thing. More specifically, state lawmakers should do this.
If it’s not looking better every time they pause, they need to do better.Report ad
In this case, video in California showed a store with shelves emptied to the floor and buckled pavement on a bridge. Officials said many homes were damaged and, luckily, only two people hurt, at least according to what is known as of this writing.
The Wasatch Front might not be so fortunate.
As I’ve noted before, the Federal Emergency Management Agency released a report awhile back that predicts a 7.0 quake centered along the Wasatch Front would be among the deadliest in American history, with more than 3,000 deaths, 9,300 people critically injured and 84,400 people unable to use their homes. Hundreds of thousands of people could be without potable water for 90 days or so.
The Utah Seismic Safety Commission has said we have a 43% chance of experiencing a quake of 6.75 or higher magnitude between now and 2063. Without adequate preparation, recovery could take many years.
Anyone want to guess who people would blame for not doing enough to prepare?
Given Utah’s robust economy and growth rate, this ought to give everyone pause. Hurricane Katrina taught us how a natural disaster can affect the reputation of a metropolitan area. Why not do all we can today, while surplus funds flood state coffers, to keep the damage to a minimum?Report ad
To be fair, the state isn’t sitting completely idle. The proposed budget Gov. Spencer Cox presented earlier this month calls for $50 million to be spent on seismically upgrading aqueducts that carry water to Utah’s populated areas.
That would be a good start. Fixing aqueducts was one of five recommendations from a Utah Seismic Safety Commission report issued last year.
The others were to fund a continuing study of fixing school buildings that might be vulnerable; to ensure that buildings larger than 200,000 square feet or that otherwise serve a vital purpose (hospitals, schools, police stations) undergo a rigorous structural review; that an early warning system be put in place; and that the public be made more aware that we live among roughly 140,000 structures built with unreinforced masonry — the type of thing that would crumble without too much pressure.
Many owners of unreinforced masonry homes are low-income, or they are landlords who rent to low-income people. Governments try not to force homeowners to do expensive upgrades, but the state could enhance existing fix-the-bricks programs to help with costs, and they could require homeowners to disclose earthquake risks to potential buyers.
Whenever I write about this, some people argue that private homeowners should bear the costs themselves. The rest of us shouldn’t have to help them.
That simply won’t get the job done. Governments offer monetary incentives for all kinds of things that are tied to society’s greater good, such as flip-your-strip programs that encourage drought-friendly landscaping in a desert where water is becoming scarce.
In a strong enough earthquake, unreinf