Thursday's earthquake didn't hit Salt Lake City with near the same intensity as Wells, Nev., but it still gave some a bit of a scare, especially those in the city's public safety building.

A couple of dozen people voluntarily evacuated from Salt Lake police headquarters, on the corner of 200 South and 300 East, after the temblor shook the building, causing some of the doors to close.

"It was enough that people were concerned," said Salt Lake police Chief Chris Burbank. "In light of all the building concerns, they actually left."

State officials meanwhile were closely watching response to the Nevada quake not only to offer assistance if needed, but also to learn how to improve its own plans —especially on how to respond to quakes in remote areas that may not have many resources.

The state activated its Emergency Operations Center at the Capitol, and had agencies such as Homeland Security, Health, the Utah Department of Transportation, and the Utah National Guard participating there.

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. said Thursday that the Nevada earthquake should serve as a reminder to Utah.

"It is absolutely the case that this is, in a sense, a wake-up call," the governor said during his monthly press conference broadcast on KUED Channel 7. "How prepared are we at every level?"

That includes public schools. Huntsman said there's no reason schools shouldn't be as safe in an earthquake as the state Capitol, which recently underwent a multi-year, $200-plus million dollar retrofit and renovation project.

"This will probably spark a healthy debate about how safe our schools actually are," he said.

State computer modeling has shown that a 7.0 in Salt Lake County could kill 700 students and teachers, and injure another 13,000.

Emergency dispatchers stayed in the building and 911 service was not interrupted, he said. But dispatchers were nervous enough that they made inquiries into whether they should close the dispatch office and get out, he said.

The building that houses both the Salt Lake City Police Department's main base of operation and Salt Lake Fire Department's Administration, has been the topic of debate for several months.

Police say their building is falling apart. A controversial $192 million bond that would have paid for five new public safety structures at three locations was narrowly rejected by voters in November. Former Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson was one of high profile opponents of the bond, saying he thought the price tag was too much. Other opponents called it the ultimate Christmas wish list.

But Burbank said Thursday's quake re-enforced the need for a new public safety building.

"It's very challenging if your people who work here are so uncomfortable and uneasy," he said. "It was enough that they felt unsafe being in the building and chose to leave. How can we effectively ask them to stay in a building that might risk their safety and well being (during a larger quake)."

If the earthquake had occurred in the city, Burbank said he has been assured by engineers that the building itself would not collapse on everyone. But everything inside the structure, including emergency dispatch radios, would no longer work, he said.

Dispatchers would have to get out of the building to perform their duties elsewhere, causing police to not be able to respond to emergencies effectively, Burbank said.

Tom Panuzio, CEO of Global Security Capital Group, a company that helps with funding for construction of new public safety buildings, believes the earthquake was an urgent wakeup call.

"Salt Lake City has best first-responders, but we don't have the facilities to protect them. We need to invest to keep those responders safe," he said. "This hits way too close to home. This needs to be a wakeup call to state and city officials that the facilities need to be upgraded now."

Burbank said he has had several meetings with Mayor Ralph Becker on what can be done now to get a new public safety building.

"We're looking at several funding options. We're in the education process with the new mayor. We have to go through and make sure he's comfortable with all we're asking for," Burbank said. "It's certainly not a dead issue by any means."


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