Utah Experiences Largest Earthquake Since 1992: What U Need to Know


(Courtesy of Kaila Balch)

By Ivana Martinez, Assistant News Editor


On March 18, 2020, at 7:09 a.m. the Wasatch Front experienced its largest earthquake since 1992. According to the University of Utah Seismograph station, the earthquake had a preliminary magnitude of 5.7 near Magna, Utah. 

The U sent out a campus alert at 7:34 a.m. informing students to “Drop, Cover and Hold On. Prep for aftershocks.” 

The University of Utah Seismograph Stations held a videoconference briefing updates on this morning’s magnitude 5.7 earthquake at 9:30 a.m.

Keith Koper, director of the U Seismograph Stations, and Bob Carey, response and recovery bureau chief for the Utah Division of Emergency Management, spoke about their response as scientists to this natural disaster.

Koper said, “It is not imminent that there’s another larger earthquake to come.” He said the earthquake that occurred this morning is a considered a moderate-sized earthquake. He mentioned there a small probability — about 4% to 5% — that Utah could face a larger earthquake.

In the press conference, Koper mentioned the reason people who were downtown might have felt a significant swaying was due to a lot of sediment in the basin.

The reason Koper and Carey don’t anticipate a larger magnitude earthquake is because historical earthquake sequences don’t unfold in that manner. Koper said there is not a significant release of pressure off the Wasatch fault.

Carey mentioned over the next few days there will be building inspections to come, and the Salt Lake City Airport will close as a result to inspect the building.

Carey said this is the earthquake he’s always wanted to happen because it helps the public understand how Utah can also experience earthquakes and has a minor effect on buildings. It’s a reminder that Utahns live in earthquake country.

“Just think what our big ones kind of look like and the kinds of things that we have to deal with, and we’re going to have to deal with it, and it’s not going to be nearly as easy as this practical power — we’re not going to have water, we’re going to have lots of problems with this,” Carey said.

“This is sort of a wake up call telling us, hey you know we need to think about making the preparations. As Bob was saying, with the building codes, and we need to think about moving, you know, perhaps towards one of these earthquakes early warning systems,” Koper said.

An Earthquake Early Warning System called ShakeAlert sends out warning signs alerting people a few minutes before shaking arrives. ShakeAlert is not an earthquake predictor.

Carey suggests the best thing is for people is to stay calm and not to overreact.

“This is not a precursor to anything that we’re expecting,” Cary said, “So don’t go into the grocery store and buy six months’ worth of food because you’re not going to need it. It shouldn’t take us in that direction.”

Salt Lake County tweeted out, “All non essential Salt Lake County facilities, including the Government Center, are closed today due to the earthquake.”

As a result of the earthquake, evacuations and loss of power are in some areas downtown. The Utah Health Department said the COVID-19 information line is down today. 

Gov. Herbert warned Utah residents in a tweet to stay away from Downtown, as some crew members assess the buildings and water pipes that have been affected by the earthquake. 

The Division of Emergency Management advises that residents follow @BeReadyUtah on Twitter, to keep a flashlight ready and a pair of shoes by the bed and make earthquake preparedness plans. 

In light of the global pandemic with COVID-19, local school districts have transitioned online for two weeks. In an effort to provide resources to students the districts were going to provide meals and laptops, but some of those programs are shut down until tomorrow. Among those districts include Salt Lake School Districts and Murray School District.  

The University of Utah was scheduled to have started the transition to online classes on March 18, but classes have been canceled today in light of the earthquake. 

In an email sent out at 9:13 a.m. by the School of Medicine, Erika Boss announced that they will be evacuating the School of Medicine building. It is yet to be seen if this is COVID-19 related or due to the earthquake this morning.  

Updates will continue throughout the day.  

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Editor’s note: Signs and symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, dry cough, tiredness and shortness of breath. These symptoms are believed to occur between two and 14 days after a person is exposed to the disease. If you have these symptoms and have recently come into contact with a person who is known to have COVID-19, or if you have recently traveled to an area with community spread of the disease, you should call your doctor. Areas with community spread of COVID-19 are believed to include China, South Korea, Italy, Iran and Seattle. If you do not have a doctor who you visit regularly, please call the Utah Coronavirus Information Line at 1-800-456-7707 or the University of Utah Health hotline at 801-587-0712. Do not go to a healthcare facility without first making arrangements to do so.