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Utah 'vastly underprepared' for major earthquake

Earthquake generic image SLC
Posted at 4:15 PM, Oct 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-21 10:14:25-04

SALT LAKE CITY — A major earthquake along the Wasatch Front could kill thousands, leave tens of thousands more homeless and cause over $30 billion in economic damage to the state.

The frightening numbers came during a presentation on infrastructure and the impact a major earthquake might have. According to a projection by the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute's Utah chapter, a magnitude 7 or greater earthquake centered along the Wasatch Front could result in:

  • 2,500 deaths
  • 8,000 injured
  • 84,000 displaced households
  • 333,000 households will not have potable water for more than 90 days
  • A projected $31 billion economic impact to the state.

"Nearly 80% of Utah’s population lives within 15 miles of the Wasatch fault," said Dr. Brady Cox, a professor of civil engineering at Utah State University.

Dr. Cox was asking for the legislature to fund an earthquake engineering center at USU in Logan, which would look at building design, retrofitting existing buildings to make them more prepared to withstand an earthquake and advise the state on infrastructure improvements.

"Historically, earthquakes with magnitudes greater than seven occur between Brigham City and Nephi every 300 years," Dr. Cox testified. "And the Salt Lake City segment? The one just outside our windows here, the last time that one ruptured was about 1,400 years ago. On average, that section ruptures every 1,300. It could happen anytime, it could be a while."

Some lawmakers were left a little stunned by the presentation.

"It’s overwhelming what we need to start doing," said Sen. Chris Wilson, who chairs the legislature's Public Infrastructure and Government Operations Appropriations Subcommittee.

The last major earthquake in Utah was the 5.7 magnitude Magna quake on March 18, 2020 (and the thousands of aftershocks). Rep. Clare Collard, D-Magna, has been pushing for the state to spend more to prepare for an earthquake.

"In the state of Utah, we pride ourselves on being prepared, we have our 72 hour kits and all these things that help us to be prepared for any eventuality," she told FOX 13. "When it comes to earthquake preparedness? We are just vastly underprepared."

Sen. Wilson supported more spending to help Utah prepare for a big earthquake, but it could potentially cost billions.

"We need to take a look at it," he told FOX 13. "It’s overwhelming the amount of money and we don’t have that kind of money and where are you going to take that money from?"

Brian Nelson, the director of the Utah Division of Risk Management, testified that the state's insurance simply wouldn't cut it.

"Our traditional insurance program for the state has about $525 million dollars in sub-limits, meaning that’s the maximum the insurance will pay," he said, adding that the Utah State Capitol alone would cost about $500 million to rebuild in a major earthquake.

Rep. Collard said she would push for more funding for earthquake readiness.

"It really is a drop in the bucket when you begin to look at the billions of dollars in losses we’ll sustain in addition to the loss of life," she said.