Several buildings along the Wasatch Front should be evacuated or reinforced because of the danger they will collapse during an earthquake, experts said Tuesday.
Speaking to the opening session of the fifth annual workshop on earthquake hazards along the Wasatch Front, Fred Krimgold, associate dean of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute, said Utahns must begin identifying which buildings are likely to collapse if the ground starts shaking.Other experts said several buildings in northern Utah were built similarly to those that collapsed in heaps of rubble during the December earthquake in Soviet Armenia. The landscape and seismic activity in Armenia is similar to that of northern Utah, and many experts expect a similar quake along the Wasatch Front someday.
Once the dangerous buildings are identified, they should be evacuated, Krimgold said.
"This is a very expensive proposition," Krimgold admitted to reporters after his speech. "But life loss is the real issue. Materials you can replace. People you can't replace."
The workshops, attended by more than 200 federal, state and local earthquake scientists, planners, engineers and architects are scheduled to continue through Thursday at the University Park Hotel.
Krimgold and Walter Hays, a geophysicist at the United States Geological Survey National Center in Reston, Va., recently returned from Armenia, where they examined the damage and helped rescue efforts.
Krimgold said recently constructed buildings with reinforced concrete frames and unreinforced masonry collapsed, while older buildings remained standing. The floor pieces of high-rise concrete buildings collapsed one upon the other, leaving virtually no chance for people to survive. An estimated 50,000 people died in the quakes.
He said such buildings in Utah do not necessarily have to be evacuated immediately, but steps should be taken either to reinforce or reconstruct the buildings.
"We're talking about a disaster that was caused by mistakes made during the last 15 years," Krimgold said. "Building design is a matter of life and death.'
Krimgold also questioned how well-prepared emergency teams are for such a disaster. He noted that crews were caught off guard last year when a building collapsed unexpectedly in Brownsville, Texas.
"The difficulty we have is that there is virtually no demand (for rescue efforts) for long periods of time, then there is virtually an infinite demand for a short period of time," he said, noting that crews must quickly attempt to get to survivors trapped in rubble. "When a building falls, it's not over."
The Armenia quake ignited about 50 fires while it cut off water supplies. Krimgold said emergency teams from Utah and California should have traveled to Armenia. "They need the experience in this kind of situation."
Hays said several comparisons can be drawn between Armenia and the Wasatch Front. Both sites are heavily populated, both have examples of the same types of buildings and both have the possibility of experiencing strong earthquakes every 300 years.
The Armenian quake happened along an unmapped fault.
"If minor, unmapped faults can generate an earthquake like this, then every urban area is in danger of this type of quake," Hays said.