Saying it's not a question of if, but when a killer earthquake will strike the Wasatch Front, Salt Lake County officials are preparing a plan to avoid the nightmare that occurred in Soviet Armenia.
It took days for rescue teams and relief workers to respond to Armenian victims, but the county's fire division is readying a comprehensive earthquake response designed to help local government leaders and the public prepare for "the big one" and provide immediate relief assistance."We can't prevent acts of God, but we can prevents acts of stupidity," said County Commission Chairman Mike Stewart.
Had rescue and relief workers been able to respond to the Armenian quake within 24 hours, hundreds or thousands more lives could have been saved, Stewart said. A lack of planning prevented available relief from reaching Armenia quickly, and it's that lack of planning county officials want to avoid.
An earthquake of 7.0 magnitude on the Richter scale would cause widespread and heavy damage in Salt Lake County, kill an estimated 3,000 people and leave at least ten times that many homeless, the commissioner said.
Working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Utah Division of Comprehensive Emergency Management, county fire chief Larry Hinman is developing the county's earthquake mitigation and response plan.
"We need to plan what we will do, how we will do it and in what priorities," Stewart said. "We have to consider things like reconnecting ruptured gas, electric and com-munication lines. We have to organize debris removal, medical care, temporary shelter and food and water supplies."
Training will be a major part of the preparation and response plan. County officials recently participated in a three-day FEMA earthquake training seminar, and they hope to involve local city officials in similar training once the county plan is completed in June.
The quake training seminars help elected leaders, public works directors, safety personnel and other officials understand their roles in emergency response.
For example, the best place from which any valley mayor could direct local response efforts following a major quake would be the sheriff's communications bunker in downtown Salt Lake, Stewart said. If the quake knocked out standard communications systems, it would be impossible for a mayor to coordinate relief efforts by remaining on the scene in his or her city.