Salt Lake City Stresses Earthquake Preparedness

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Every native Utahn has heard of “the big one” from the time they could walk.

It is rumored that any day or night, an earthquake larger than any person has ever known will destroy everything standing in the state. Even though it might sound like a drastic exaggeration, there is a grain of truth behind it. Katherine Whidden, a U Seismograph Stations researcher, said “the big one” refers to the Wasatch Fault, which runs through the populated areas of northern-central Utah. In preparation, short and long term information has been produced by professionals at the Seismograph Stations and Department of City and Metropolitan Planning.

“We cannot predict earthquakes and we can’t say exactly when it will happen,” Whidden said. “It could be tomorrow, it could be in 50 years, it could be in 200 years.”

The Utah Seismograph Stations and Whidden’s team have monitored areas in Utah and Yellowstone and found the magnitudes and places most likely to have earthquakes. They uncovered the geology to read the history and study the strength and length of shaking that occurs. This research can help determine the effects of upcoming earthquakes but cannot predict when one will happen.

Whidden said the Wasatch Fault line stretches from northern to central Utah, and is made of 10 segments which may have shake magnitudes of 6.5 to 7.5. Utah has faults all across its surface that could reach a 5.5 earthquake.

Divya Chandrasekhar, a professor in the Department of City and Metropolitan Planning, said the U faces seismic risk and recent Earthquake Engineering Research Institute seismic scenario reports of Salt Lake City require that a better recovery plan must be put into place. Chandrasekhar’s research focused on how a community recovers from disasters and the planning required behind it.

At the U, the College of Architecture and Planning has revised its mission so that resilience building is a core principle. The Department of City Planning and faculty members have joined the iUtah project, which focuses on how scarcity issues and climate change factors affect the outcome of earthquakes.

“The age of the building, construction material (reinforced concrete and masonry versus non-reinforced) and structural retrofitting are all factors affecting the outcome of an earthquake,” Chandrasekhar said.

However, not every building can be rebuilt, retrofitted or made completely safe to be in during an earthquake. Chandrasekhar said that proximity to the fault line, social-economical placement, a sloping hill, a dam, etc. can change the outcomes during a quake. Every student, employee and person living along the fault must know basic knowledge to help them be prepared.

“The best thing students can do to prepare for an earthquake is to have a 72-hour kit with food, water and supplies for at least three days,” Whidden said.

To learn more tips for earthquake preparation, visit: www.bereadyutah.gov. To read Salt Lake City’s mitigation plan go to: www.bereadyslc.com/go/doc/6354/2116922/.

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@chriswritine