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Over 100 Utah schools may be unsafe in an earthquake

Posted at 10:28 PM, Feb 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-11 00:34:30-05

SALT LAKE CITY — A new report from the State of Utah and FEMA is shining light on how many structures in the state are built using materials and techniques that could be unsafe in the event of an earthquake.

Earthquakes are a reality that Utah has to live with but its something that around 140,00 structures in the state are not ready to deal with.

Most of those are homes built before the 1970’s.

Jessica Chappell, the Vice-Chair of the Utah Seismic Safety Commission spoke with FOX 13 News Thursday as the report was released.

“Across the state we did permit the construction of unreinforced masonry in most jurisdictions until the mid 70's,” she explained. “The state of Utah has long been known as a high seismic region.”

Many of the large structures have been altered to make them safe. Among the renovated buildings include the Salt Lake City-County Building, State Capitol, and Salt Lake Temple.

Right now, it's schools that are a focus of concern.

In total, 20 of Utah’s 29 counties have at least one school campus with unreinforced masonry. That adds up to 119 school campuses, which means 12 percent of total K-12 public school enrollment spend their school hours in these unreinforced buildings.

“There's a lot of things that go into how do we how do we actually tackle this problem," said Joe dougherty, director of public affairs to the Utah Department of Public Safety. "But it all starts with knowing the problem and that's what this report does.”

This concern is magnified when Utahns think about March 18, 2020, the day a 5.7 earthquake hit Magna rocking much of the Salt Lake Valley. A lot of the damage was confined to buildings with unreinforced masonry..

“We did see significant losses to historic buildings and to three schools,” Chappell said.

It’s estimated for every dollar spent retrofitting it could cost four dollars of repairs if damage were to occur which is why the state thinks now is the time to act.