Utah is currently facing an impending disaster. Everybody knows it is only a matter of time before a large earthquake strikes some part of the state, and the likelihood the area affected will be along the heavily populated Wasatch Range is high. In spite of this advanced warning, we have done little to prepare ourselves and our communities for such an event.
At first glance this is puzzling, as it is hard to understand why millions of people would sit on their thumbs when they know it is not a question of “if” but “when” such a devastating event will occur.
If we step back, however, this odd behavior makes a lot of sense. Humans are notoriously bad at planning for the long term, even when we have a pretty good idea of what we should be preparing for. Making matters worse, we are highly prone to resorting to denial when short-term sacrifices made for long-term survival appear too inconvenient.
Modern-day society abounds with examples, from smokers who trade years of their lives for a fleeting buzz to deniers of climate change who are unwilling to make minor changes today to ensure the planet will be a hospitable place tomorrow. With this in mind, Utahns’ attitudes toward the geological reality that makes this state so wonderful, but simultaneously dangerous, seem congruous with normal human behavior.
Unfortunately, as human behavior goes, being “normal” has never been synonymous with being healthy or even smart. Human history is littered with self-inflicted tragedies human nature made possible. In light of all of this, it would be grossly negligent for Utahns to continue down the path of denial we have chosen while hoping for the best.
Fortunately, I am not alone in thinking it is high time Utah faced up to what is admittedly a daunting task of preparedness. The U Seismic Stations has stepped up and is doing its part to tackle the issue. Going beyond simply studying earthquakes, the lab has started to reach out in an effort to spread awareness and encourage people to prepare for the inevitable.
Last year, the lab played a key role in the Great Utah ShakeOut, which was hailed as the largest earthquake drill in Utah history. Even the notoriously short-sighted Utah State Legislature has taken notice and is on the verge of passing HB 278, which addresses the issue of public schools’ structural viability in the event of an earthquake.
In spite of this progress, there are still some who are not on board when it comes to addressing earthquake safety. In the Utah House of Representatives, HB 278 only passed by a margin of 39 to 34. This opposition to the measure is not, however, shared by experts in the field.
Tex Kubacki, a graduate research assistant at the U, explained the importance of bills like HB 278 saying, “If we are going to have a public school system, we ought to make sure the schools are safe.”
Such a comment from a man like Kubacki carries a great deal of weight, as he is a Libertarian who does not believe in government regulations, as well as an expert in the field of seismology who understands the consequences we would face if we continue to ignore the reality that confronts us.
Fortunately for us, history is also filled with examples of humanity finally getting up and facing its challenges, even when doing so means making short-term sacrifices. Thus, there seems to be reason for hope when we consider whether we will be prepared when the time comes.