Magnitude 6 earthquake has 57% chance to hit Utah over next 50 years, officials say

Stock image | Photo by Petrovich/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — In the wake of recent earthquakes in Southern California and Nevada, Utah officials are reminding residents about the likelihood of the state experiencing a significant seismic event.

According to recent studies by the Utah Geological Survey and U.S. Geological Survey, Utah has a roughly 50% chance of having a damaging earthquake within the next 50 years.

The multiyear study of earthquake probabilities said that for all faults in the Wasatch Front region, Utah has a 43% chance of a magnitude 6.75 or higher earthquake and a 57% chance of a magnitude 6 or higher earthquake sometime over the next five decades.

Leon Berrett, chairman of the 15-member Utah Seismic Safety Commission, told St. George News that now is the time to prepare.

“It could happen when we’re still alive, but the chances are greater that it’ll happen (during) our children’s or maybe our grandchildren’s (lives), but it’s going to happen,” Berrett said, referring to when a major quake could potentially strike Utah.

A undated map of seismic activity in Utah | Image courtesy of Utah Seismic Safety Commission, St. George News

Thursday, the seismic commission celebrated its 25th anniversary with a special earthquake preparedness open house inside the rotunda of the State Capitol Building, during which presentations were given on a handful of topics, including seismic monitoring efforts, forecast models and safety issues related to older buildings. One presenter talked about the seismic upgrades done to the Capitol building itself.

Berrett said it’s estimated that Utah has as many as 200,000 unreinforced brick buildings, most of which are homes, that are in need of seismic upgrades.

According to the seismic commission’s website, approximately 90% of Utah’s population lives within an active earthquake zone. Large earthquakes are possible anywhere in Utah; however, they are most likely within what is known as the Intermountain Seismic Belt, a region about 100 miles wide extending north-south along the Wasatch Front and through Richfield to Cedar City and St. George. 

“It’s just important to be prepared,” Berrett said. “There’s no reason to panic or anything like that.”

Berrett said most injuries from earthquakes occur as a result of things falling on people, with many of them being in situations that could have potentially been prevented, like a large unsecured bookshelf or a heavy appliance toppling over onto someone.

“Just like you would childproof your home for a baby or little toddler, you need to earthquake-proof your home,” he said.

Among the ongoing awareness and preparedness efforts being conducted statewide are the annual “Great Utah Shakeout” drills held each April. 

What to do if an earthquake strikes

If you are indoors during an earthquake, the basic advice to remember is “drop, cover and hold on.” This applies to both the initial earthquake and any aftershocks that may follow. During the shaking, hold on to something sturdy, and move as little as possible. If you do not have sturdy furniture to hold on to, sit on the floor next to an interior wall and cover your head and neck with your arms. 

Stay indoors until the shaking stops and you are sure it is safe to exit. If you must leave the building after the shaking stops, use stairs with caution, in case there are aftershocks. Do not use elevators.

If you happen to be away from home during the earthquake, return only when authorities say it is safe to do so. Use extreme caution when entering your home. Be sure to carefully inspect walls, floors, doors, staircases and windows to check for damage. 

The Red Cross also advises people to have prearranged safe meeting places and designated contacts outside their immediate area. 

Preparedness resources

The Red Cross organization has a free smartphone app called Emergency, which provides real-time information and updates and shelter locations for several different disaster categories, including earthquakes, wildfires and floods. The app also features an “I’m Safe” button that users can press to let their family members and friends know they are OK. To download the app or other similar apps from the Red Cross, click here.

To see the Red Cross’ earthquake safety checklist, click here

For additional information about earthquake preparedness, visit shakeout.org.

Email: jrichards@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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