SALT LAKE CITY — There’s a good chance you or possibly your child participated in the annual “Great Utah ShakeOut” Thursday morning.
About 920,000 people — nearly a third of the state — were expected to participate. It’s a recent tradition to prepare Utahns for the moment a major earthquake strikes the state, which seismologists and emergency officials warn is inevitable in the Beehive State. They worry because a good chunk of the state’s population rests on or near a fault line.
Utah Division of Emergency Management spokesman Joe Dougherty said the state receives anywhere from 600 to 800 earthquakes yearly, but most aren’t felt by residents. However, in 2016, the Utah Geological Survey and U.S. Geological Survey reported there was about a 50 percent chance of a major, damaging earthquake in the next 50 years.
So what should you do when the next major earthquake hits Utah?
It all starts with protecting yourself when the earthquake starts. People should seek cover immediately — avoiding windows, tall filing cabinets and other things that could fall during an earthquake. That could mean moving under a desk, table or heavy furniture or moving against a wall and protecting yourself.
For those outdoors, it’s ideal to move to a clear area, but people should avoid power lines, trees, signs, buildings and other hazards. Those driving should pull to the side of the road and avoid overpasses, bridges, power lines, signs or other hazards.
Those are important because, as Dougherty points out, many Utahns may be on their own in the hours and days after the earthquake hits. It’s the message Utah’s emergency management division sends with each shakeout event.
It’s also why officials have stressed the importance for emergency preparedness kits because predesignated routes are essentially impossible. Unlike other potentially crippling emergencies, such as hurricanes, it’s difficult for emergency responders to pinpoint when or where a major earthquake will hit, or how damaging it could be for Utah’s roadways or buildings.
“The thing we really want people to get in their brains is that they be on their own wherever they are for an extended period of time,” Dougherty said. “It could be a couple of weeks or more before help arrives in any specific neighborhood.”
Any evacuations following a major earthquake would be determined by local law enforcement.
Since it’s also unknown when a major earthquake will hit, Dougherty suggested residents should have an emergency preparedness kit at their home, their car and at work in case they are separated from their family and main food storage. In participating in Thursday’s shakeout, Dougherty and his colleagues brought their kits with them out of the state office building to practice muscle memory of having their kits with them.
Many kits include a basic medical kit, flashlights, batteries, water or a battery-powered radio. Dougherty encourages people to look into emergency first-aid knowledge, such as CPR and bandaging wounds or enroll in Community Emergency Response Team training — a service typically taught by local fire departments.
“The thing we really want people to get in their brains is that they be on their own wherever they are for an extended period of time. It could be a couple of weeks or more before help arrives in any specific neighborhood.” — Joe Dougherty, Utah Division of Emergency Management spokesman
Planning for having extra medication, such as insulin for diabetics, is another aspect Dougherty said people should plan for, in addition for extra supplies for those who have electric wheelchairs or even extra food and a kennel for those who have pets.
Dougherty stressed people should text instead of call after a major earthquake because thousands and thousands of calls could overload Utah’s telecommunications network. One of the sayings the division preaches is “text first, talk second.”
He also suggested people digitize all important documents, such as birth certifications, titles and insurance documents, and carry them on flash drives to have them at the ready in case any of those documents are destroyed or cannot be accessed.
All of it, officials say, is important to remember to be ready for the inevitable.
“The knowledge is the thing we hope will drive people,” Dougherty said. “Although it sounds scary, they can take that fear and say ‘I’m going to conquer this fear by making some steps,” he said.