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In our opinion: Recent Napa Valley earthquake reminds Utahns to be prepared

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 27 2014 8:59 a.m. MDT

Are those who live in northern Utah's earthquake zone prepared to face a quake similar to the recent one in Napa Valley? (Eric Risberg, Associated Press) Are those who live in northern Utah's earthquake zone prepared to face a quake similar to the recent one in Napa Valley? (Eric Risberg, Associated Press)

California’s Napa Valley was fortunate that the 6.0 earthquake that struck over the weekend came at 3 a.m., when people generally were asleep and not out in public in large numbers. Property damage was widespread, perhaps topping $1 billion, and slightly less than 200 people were treated for injuries that ranged from minor to serious. It was hardly a minor seismic event.

However, it could have been so much worse, and a good deal of credit for that must go to strict building codes and a general preparedness among people in the area. That’s an important lesson for the people of northern Utah, who live in an earthquake zone that doesn’t often manifest itself.

A handbook from the Utah Seismic Safety Commission outlines the situation here. There have been 16 earthquakes of a 5.5 magnitude or higher in Utah since pioneers first arrived in 1847. Along I-15 “are many active faults capable of producing earthquakes.” These could cause extensive damage and casualties.

The keys to surviving such a quake include retrofitting older homes, tying down water heaters and securing other large objects, creating emergency plans for you and your family and assembling kits to provide food, blankets and other essentials.

Compare California’s 6.0 quake to others of a similar magnitude throughout history. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, a 6.0 temblor in Yunnan, China, in 2003 caused 16 deaths and damaged more than 1 million homes. A 6.0 quake in Greece in 1999 killed 143 and injured 1,600 more.

California’s lack of casualties was more than just good timing. Utahns may not experience quakes with enough of a frequency to put people in a state of constant awareness. But preparation is vital, and just a little bit of it will help a lot when the time comes.

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