When the earth moves, the LDS Church will be ready.
That's the opinion of researcher Sherry Oaks, who thinks the organizational structure of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can provide the needed volunteer army in case of an Armenia-size earthquake along the Wasatch Fault."The LDS Church can mobilize large numbers of volunteers extremely quickly," Oaks said, "and that is probably one of the largest contributions they can make to the community at large."
Oaks, who holds a doctorate in geography and is a research associate at University of Colorado in Boulder, was in Salt Lake City to attend the fifth annual workshop on earthquake hazards along the Wasatch Front.
Oaks wrote her dissertation on institutional response to earthquakes in Salt Lake City. In her study, Oaks analyzed six Utah earthquakes that occurred in the 20th century near the city.
The often-discussed Wasatch Fault makes seismic activity in the Salt Lake Valley a real possibility. And the threat of structural damage is a problem because of the number of unreinforced masonry or cinder block buildings here, constructed before present earthquake standards were part of building codes.
But LDS Church leaders have planned for the future to avoid the degree of tragedy that devastated Soviet Armenia after the December earthquake. In Armenia, many of the historic church buildings that make up the fabric of the culture were destroyed.
"The church's own building practices and building guidelines are state-of-the-art," she said. "They also have ongoing programs for repair and rehabilitation of their own buildings."
The Salt Lake Temple and the tabernacle buildings, beyond their religious importance, hold immeasurable cultural significance to Utahns and members of the LDS Church nationwide. Those structures appear to be strong enough to withstand an earthquake with only minimal damage. "Those are incredibly viable structures, and the Church Office Building is also," Oaks said.
In addition, Oaks complimented the church for teaching its members to prepare for emergencies. She said principles of self-reliance and preparation have become culturally ingrained. "It may not be that every family is following what the church is suggesting that they follow, but certainly the belief structure is in place."
Oaks also praised city leaders for their progressive approach to earthquake technology, as they made the decision to incorporate a high-technology seismic isolation system into the restoration of the historic City-County Building. The building's much-touted base isolation system - which experts say will function similarly to a car's shock absorbers - is a marvel of high technology.