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Study shows big earthquake could hit Utah in the next 50 years

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Posted at 6:16 PM, Apr 18, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-18 20:16:04-04

SALT LAKE CITY – Seismologists can’t predict exactly when or where an earthquake will hit, but for the first time, they can estimate a particular size within a certain area and time frame.

A panel of earthquake experts gathered at the Utah State Capitol Monday and released findings of a new study. Ivan Wong, the lead author of the study, looked at the probability of Utahns experiencing a damaging earthquake.

“The problem is we don’t know when that earthquake will occur. It could occur later today, tomorrow, days month, years down the road,” Wong said. “This area right here outside of California, Oregon, Washington has the highest hazard, risk anywhere within the western U.S.”

Researchers say in the next 50 years, there’s as 43 percent chance of at least one earthquake of a magnitude 6.75 or greater in the Wasatch Front region, where nearly 80 percent of Utahns live.

“That means flipping a coin there’s roughly a one out of two chances that we will have a big earthquake in the next 50 years,” Wong said.

The probability is increasing because there are more contributing factors such as the Oquirrh-Great Salt Lake Fault Zone.

“It’s a little scary because now there’s much more teeth to it. It has a more California feel to it,” said Bob Carey, earthquake program manager for the Division of Emergency Management.

Emergency planners urge people to prepare now whether it’s getting a 72-hour kit or retrofitting their home. They also call on lawmakers to provide funding so schools can be prepared. Right now, roughly 10 percent of schools have collapse danger.

On Thursday, Utahns can show their preparedness by participating in the annual Great Shakeout Earthquake Drill. About 850,000 people have signed up so far. Click here for more details.