The two minor earthquakes that shook Bluffdale and other parts of southern Salt Lake and northern Utah counties Friday morning ought to have done more than just literally wake people up from their morning slumber.
They ought to wake up the entire Wasatch Front to the need for greater preparedness.
Officials have put the odds of a major Northern Utah quake at 50 percent over the next 50 years. The state’s most populous region — a multi-county stretch that houses more than 2 million people — sits between two precarious fault lines, the Wasatch and West Valley faults. If they erupted in tandem, the devastation could be catastrophic.
A magnitude 7 quake or higher likely would tumble old brick buildings and make roads and rails impassable. People might be isolated for days, or even weeks — separated from loved ones who might have been at work or school or just running errands when the devastation struck. Information systems might be hampered as power lines and internet services are downed or severed.
Food storage supplies and water would be at a premium, if they weren’t destroyed in the collapse of buildings. More importantly, proper sanitation quickly would become an issue. With plumbing and sewage lines possibly severed, people would have to build makeshift latrines and disposal areas. Failing to do so properly could cause diseases to quickly spread.
These are not pleasant thoughts, but they could become an instant part of life and survival. Proper planning would bring relief, quell panic and provide a needed sense of security.
Human nature leads most people to avoid serious thought of unpleasant things. Utah experiences few natural disasters, generally speaking. An analysis by the private company Golden Eagle examined all Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster declarations between Jan. 1, 1953, and Dec. 31, 2017, and found Utah ranked 42nd out the 50 states.
To put that in perspective, Utah had 31 disaster declarations during that time, compared with 254 in Texas and 250 in California.
This relative lack of experience does not mean Utahns fall apart when things go bad. The state’s impressive record of volunteerism often translates into instant neighborhood and community mobilizations that make federal help unnecessary. A major earthquake would tax those systems.
Friday’s two quakes caused no discernible damage. Judging by media reports and social media networks, they did rattle some nerves, however.
They ought to spur every family to sit down and organize ways to tie down furniture that might tip or cause injuries, remove heavy objects from shelves and otherwise secure the home. Then they should agree on a meeting place in case the home is unlivable and part of the family is in another location when the quake hits.Comment on this story
Workers should pay closer attention on April 18, the date of the next Great Utah ShakeOut, when businesses focus on safety precautions and evacuation procedures.
Two years ago, we urged Utah lawmakers to fund early warning systems in vulnerable regions, similar to those in Japan, Taiwan and China. These would begin to sound as soon as seismic waves were detected, giving people a few precious seconds to prepare.
This would be costly, but we doubt anyone would complain about that if nature’s next early-morning wake-up call is much more powerul than Friday’s.