It took an earthquake in Idaho to bring home the need to do something about the structural safety of the City-County Building in downtown Salt Lake City, Mayor Palmer DePaulis told a Saturday gathering of the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute.
The institute's annual meeting brought a gathering of earthquake experts from around the nation to Salt Lake City this past week.While there had been talk of renovating the City-County Building for several years, little progress was made on the effort until the Borah Peak earthquake several hundred miles away in October 1983 caused the 90-year-old building to shudder and forced a temporary evacuation after the weights from the clock tower came crashing down through the fourth-story roof.
"That incident was a signal that we (local officials) needed to look at all government facilities," DePaulis said. "That initiated a comprehensive review of facilities and the City-County Building became the centerpiece for our seismic bonding effort."
The need to focus on long-range planning for dealing with natural disasters probably got its biggest boost in Utah during the floods of 1983 and 1984, DePaulis said. He noted that lessons were learned from the 1983 floods that turned downtown Salt Lake City into the "Venice of the West" as thousands of volunteers turned out to sandbag streets in an effort to channel floodwaters down specified city streets. Those lessons had a significant impact just 12 months later when the flooding returned.
"In that short time we were able to make new plans that allowed us to control the water better and to keep most of it in the underground storm sewer conduits," DePaulis said.
DePaulis emphasized the need for ongoing natural disaster planning, especially plans related to earthquakes. He said educating the public concerning what it can do to prepare as well as putting in place capital improvements that will hopefully reduce potential damage are important. He said such planning, especially when it is successfully used to manage problems such as flooding, builds public confidence and establishes governmental credibility.
"There is a need to set standards and to prepare for the future," DePaulis said, "but often it is hard to free ourselves from the present and look forward."
DePaulis said having a definitive response plan does not solve all the problems. "There are still a number of instant decisions that have to be made."
The group also received an overview of the effort Salt Lake County is making to inventory its buildings and make preliminary assessments concerning potential earthquake damage. These assessments will help in determining retrofitting needs as well as planning for earthquake-related emergencies.
Also presented was an overview of the effort Salt Lake School District is making to assess the earthquake vulnerability of local schools and planning efforts involved for a 20-25-year capital improvement program to earthquake-proof those schools.