According to safety crusader Maralin Hoff -- commonly known as the "Earthquake Lady"--the ground in Utah already trembles with more than 1,500 minor earthquakes each year. Any of them could be the precursor to a devastating quake that could permanently shake Utahns from their accustomed sense of security.
"People should let emergency preparedness be part of their lives," she urges in response to the potential danger. "But I'd say Utah is one of the most prepared states in the U.S., and I think it's because we've learned and become aware from tragedy happening around us what to do and what not to do. It's important that every family be prepared for the big one to hit."
When considering much larger quakes, an earthquake on a magnitude 6.5 to 7.5 could occur on any of several active segments of the Wasatch fault between Brigham City and Levan.
"The Wasatch Fault runs against the base of the mountain coming from Utah County, and it cuts through the city once it gets to Salt Lake City," says Earthquake Program Manager Bob Carey. "In Davis County and Weber County the fault is up next to the mountain, so they sit in a better setting than Salt Lake as far as fault rupture is considered. Salt Lake City would be the worst case scenario, harming a lot of people and buildings."
Hoff says the ground shaking's most severe impact on buildings would primarily depend on where the earthquake's epicenter is located.
"Certain buildings and homes may collapse depending on their age or type," Hoff says. "Luckily, some of the buildings in Downtown Salt Lake have been renovated and are now up to earthquake code, but other older ones would suffer."
If the earthquake were to occur on a central part of the Wasatch fault, Utah should expect damage to buildings in Davis, Salt Lake, Utah and Weber counties. Surface faulting and ground failures due to shaking during a large earthquake may cause major disruption of lifelines and transportation systems.
"We could also experience power outages everywhere lasting 8 - 12 hours, most water or gas systems would be down or experience outages and phone lines with their hooks and stands would fall." Carey says.
Estimates of damage from a "direct hit" to one of the Wasatch Front's major metropolitan areas could result in even worse damage.
"We could see gas lines break, water heaters fall over, pipelines rupture, power outages and even landslides, especially in the spring when the ground gets a good shake while it's wet," says Wally Gwynn, a Utah geologist and expert on the Great Salt Lake. "Older homes and even newer homes not built up to earthquake-proof standards may also suffer. We could also have highway overpasses collapse like we saw during the Northridge earthquake in Los Angeles."
Fortunately for Utah residents, there is a program to help all individuals know what to do and what not to do during or after an earthquake. The program, CERT (Community Emergency Response Team), has close-by, separate organizations for counties throughout the state.
"CERT is a nationwide organization, and we have our program here in South Davis County run with the help of the fire department," says Bountiful resident and CERT volunteer Dennis Maughan. "We have coordinated role-playing mock disaster drills in the past, and we teach things like first-aid basics, communication during an earthquake and safety measures. We also do in-depth meeting and planning to discuss things like transportation and who might need help the most during an earthquake."
Hoff says CERT is open to all residents who may be concerned about what to do during or after a major earthquake.
"Anyone can sign up for training from CERT, and besides first aid they also teach CPR, how to protect yourself and other knowledge of what to do during an earthquake, such as how to lift something off of someone," she says. "It's helps to have the local fire department help train on CERT. There are not enough affordable emergency services out there, and we need to be prepared because this earthquake is going to be real and it's going to hit."
Gwynn says the local churches in the area also do their part to educate residents on earthquake safety.
"There are a number of churches here doing neighborhood preparation plans for earthquakes," he says. "First, they'll assign groups to cover certain people in a geographical area close to where they live. Then they'll say there will be an earthquake on a certain day, and they'll tell the people to contact and try and assess the needs of everyone in their area within an hour."
Carey says children in the area are also involved with earthquake safety in case the big one hits during school hours.
"For 'earthquake week,' which is usually the first week in April, the schools spend time covering earthquake issues and safe areas to be when it hits," he says. "They also do earthquake drills and activities like 'duck and cover' to give the kids a better understanding that we live in an area prone to earthquakes."
During an actual earthquake, Hoff says there are a number of safe places to hide and things to look out for in the midst of all the chaos.
"The inside of solid walls are safe areas to be no matter what, but it's also important to watch for lights, pictures, showcase windows and possibly the ceiling falling," Hoff says. "Doorways, especially steel or metal ones, or hallways at home or work are safe places to be, and the bathroom, closets, behind furniture, heavy tables and counters are good places to take cover or crawl under. It's important that every family goes through each room of the house to talk about where the safest places are to be around the house for an earthquake because you all might not be in the same area at the same time."
"After the earthquake, people should go through each room and check for problems with the three basic utilites: water, power and gas," Hoff says as a precaution to prevent further harm or damage. "They should check for broken water lines, and if they smell gas or hear it hiss they should go out and check the gas meter and know how to shut it off. It's also important to use the buddy system as you go through the home."
Hoff also gives the same type of guidelines to those who are at their workplace after the quake has hit.
"In a place of business, maintenance personnel should hazard-hunt and check for broken glass, a fire or any other kind of hazard within the building," she says. "Every floor should have a captain or emergency person to guide employees through what to do, and people should also do head counts and make sure senior employees are OK. Another good idea is to assign backup maintenance because the regular maitenance guy might be home sick the day of the earthquake." n