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Deseret News Archives
A seismograph at the University of Utah Seismograph Stations shows aftershocks of the earthquake that hit near Wells, Nev., on Feb. 21.

Say "the big one" and most people think "heart attack." Say it to Utahns, however, and they think "catastrophic earthquake," the "big one" that's 500 years overdue for the Wasatch Front. Each international quake — like the recent events in China — reminds the state's citizens of their precarious situation.

And that's not a bad thing.

But thinking of earthquakes is not the same as preparing. And Utahns cannot overprepare.

The worst attitude is "It won't happen in my lifetime." California may be the site of the most earthquakes in the continental United States. And parts of the South may have a 97 percent chance of a quake before 2035, but on any list of danger zones, Utah always crops up. The state has had its share of trembles. Ogden, Santaquin, Goshen, Richfield, Parowan, St. George, Farmington and Beaver are just a few towns that have had the shakes over the years. In 1909, 30 to 60 earthquakes were reported in Box Elder County alone. More recently, a Cache County quake in 1962 prompted the Small Business Administration to declare the area a "disaster region." In 1967, an earthquake in Marysvale cracked walls, ceilings and caused rock slides. Another in 1975 near the Idaho border sent tremors throughout northern Utah and into Colorado.

Still, calamities can be minimized with a little forethought. In Third World countries, the lack of building codes often leads to devastation. In the chaos, people become disoriented and complicate the disaster by creating disasters of their own. Having a plan in mind — and visualizing exactly what you will do — is the first important step to adding a modicum of order to a chaotic situation.

After the plan, the next important step is practice. In a quake, most people are killed by falling objects. Mapping out safe zones in your home — beneath solid tables, in strongly supported doorways, even against the inside corners of rooms — could go a long way in helping family members through the first rolling minutes.

Setting a place to meet outside, having multiple escape routes from rooms, knowing where food, water and medical supplies can be found and making a list of telephone numbers, vehicle identification and other information will help people take action instead of simply lapsing into panic.