Michael Brandy, Deseret Morning News
Utah National Guard Maj. Andrew Archuleta, left, and Lt. Col. Charles Dressen spend time in an Emergency Operations Center in Utah's State Office Building, where they monitored response in Nevada.

While Thursday's earthquake didn't hit Salt Lake City with near the same intensity as Wells, Nev., 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 their own plans — especially on how to respond to quakes in remote areas with limited resources.

The state activated its Emergency Operations Center at the State Office Building, and throughout the day had agencies such as Homeland Security, Health, the Utah Department of Transportation and the Utah National Guard participating and preparing to offer aid in Nevada, if requested.

In the afternoon, the center expanded operations in a two-hour exercise to give all affected state agencies a chance to show what they would do if the quake had hit here.

"I am confident the state of Utah is in good hands if we had to respond to such an incident," Keith Squires, director of state Homeland Security, said after the exercise.

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 retrofit and renovation costing in excess of $200 million.

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

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

The Utah State Capitol, which recently underwent a massive renovation that included a seismic retrofitting, was unfazed by Thursday's quake. Allyson Gamble, spokeswoman for the Utah Capitol Preservation Board, said none of the 265 isolation readers indicated movement.

Gamble said that there is currently no on-site seismic monitoring, but that a system will be installed in the coming year with the help of scientists from the University of Utah and Utah State University. Two people who were on the third floor of the building told Gamble they felt a "murmur" at the time of the seismic activity.

The building that houses both the Salt Lake City Police Department's main base of operations and Salt Lake Fire Department's administration has been the topic of debate for several months. Emergency dispatchers stayed in the building and 911 service was not interrupted following the Nevada quake. But dispatchers were nervous enough that they made inquiries into whether they should close the dispatch office and get out, Burbank said.

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.

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.

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."


Contributing: Lee Davidson, Arthur Raymond


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