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House committee rejects bill on earthquake preparedness

Earthquake Damage in Salt Lake City
Posted at 9:23 AM, Feb 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-05 11:23:35-05

SALT LAKE CITY — A House committee has rejected a bill that would focus state resources on preparing for a major earthquake in Utah.

The House Government Operations Committee voted 9-2 against Rep. Claire Collard's House Bill 100. It would create an Office of Earthquake Preparedness inside Utah's Division of Emergency Management, with two full-time employees.

"We must be prepared. Preparation will help minimize losses of all kinds," Rep. Collard, D-Magna, said.

Rep. Collard said her motives for the bill were after the 5.7 earthquake epicentered in Magna in 2020. A representative for Utah's emergency management authority testified that state funding was still minimal for earthquake readiness. They supported the legislation.

"The Utah way is being prepared and when it comes to earthquake preparedness, we are vastly under-prepared," Rep. Collard told the committee.

But Republicans on the committee voted against it, some expressing concern for a $10.2 million funding request and why they needed to create a specific office for it, when Utah's Division of Emergency Management handles overall preparedness issues now.

Rep. Collard said it would fund two new employees, but also an awareness campaign about earthquakes and some projects. There are an estimated 140,000 un-reinforced structures in the state with over $1 billion in demand to make everything earthquake safe.

"I kind of wonder the return on investment in making people aware of a problem they can’t fix," said Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, who said people are living in a situation "they can't do anything about."

"I happen to believe knowledge is power," Rep. Collard replied, defending the funding request.

Public comment, which included city council members, was supportive of the bill. Emergency preparedness managers in Utah have warned a magnitude 7.0 or greater earthquake could kill thousands and do billions in economic harm to the state.

The legislature is also considering a funding request for a study on whether Utah could benefit from an earthquake warning system.