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While experts say an earthquake along the Wasatch Front is inevitable, that doesn't mean Utahns should do nothing but sit around and wait for it to happen.

The key to reducing many of the catastrophic effects of an earthquake is a simple process, according to Genevieve Atwood, former state geologist and director of the Utah Geological and Mineral Survey."Residents need to plan ahead with the understanding that a quake will hit," she said. "I don't mean panic. I just mean think.

"In California you're not considered a wimp to say, `I'm afraid of an earthquake.' " Utahns can learn a lesson from the Nov. 17 quake, and everyone should begin now to prepare for the disaster, she said.

For example, if residents secure the water heaters in their homes, the heaters won't easily tip over in a quake, which could rupture gas lines and start a fire, she said. The water in the heater would likely be needed for the family's drinking supply as well.

Utah State Emergency Preparedness Director Lorayne Frank agrees that individual preparedness will make the difference. It takes time for government agencies to mobilize assistance in a disaster, so families need to be prepared to be on their own for 72 hours after a large earthquake hits, she said.

"I'm not saying there won't be any help for those who need it. But people need to learn to be independent for the first few days . . . so that we are able to go to the most critical areas."

Frank said her office is constantly conducting training sessions so government emergency personnel will be ready if an earthquake hits. Three weeks ago, local hospital personnel were trained in earthquake preparedness. A meeting last week to discuss what kind of assistance Utah can expect from federal officials during a quake had to be canceled because those officials were providing assistance in San Francisco.

Local preparations are taking place, but the state still has much to do. "I'm not trying to say we're 100 percent prepared," she said, explaining that a Utah quake would present some unique problems.

"Unlike the Bay area, all of our resources are concentrated on the Wasatch Front. We don't have resources to bring in from other parts of the state should an earthquake be centered in the Salt Lake-Ogden-Provo area," she said.

"One of the major hazards associated with earthquakes in Utah is the Great Salt Lake and Utah Lake," Atwood said. A quake could tilt valley floors and actually cause the lakes to inundate part of Salt Lake City or Provo.

Despite the special problems, Utah also has its advantages. Residents are generally willing to pitch in and help their neighbors and local churches provide well-organized relief efforts, said Frank.

"That is a plus for us. We learned that during the (1983-1984) flooding."

A 1976 study by the U.S. Geological Survey for a worst-case earthquake on the central Wasatch fault estimates that 2,300 people would die (assuming no dam failures) and 9,000 would be injured. More than 30,000 would be left homeless. But Atwood said the experience of the 1988 Armenian quake and more recent engineering judgment about the collapse potential of many structures along the Wasatch Front suggests that fatality estimate is low.


(Additional information)

The 72-hour home-emergency kit

Most families prefer to store emergency supplies in a location that would be relatively safe from an earthquake yet easily accessible if evacuation were necessary. Items can be stored in a 32-gallon trash can, suitcase, footlocker or individual backpack.


-Instruction manual on emergency preparedness

-Battery-powered radio

-First-aid kit and manual

-Sleeping bags and blankets (wool and thermal)

-Can opener

-Waterproof/windproof matches


-Water storage (1 gallon per person per day)

-Utility Knife

-Emergency candle

-Extra eyeglasses

-Portable radio with spare batteries

-Pipe wrench and adjustable wrench for turning off gas and water mains.

-Work gloves and heavy shoes to assist with rescue work.

-Extra clothing


-Plastic bucket with tightly fitted lid

-Plastic bags and ties


-Improvised toilet seat

-Paper cups and plates

-Personal toiletries

-Toilet paper

-Tin foil

-Paper towels

-Personal hygienic needs

-Plastic utensils



-For children: Puzzles, crayons, coloring books, etc.

-For adults: Books, magazines, games, needle work, etc.


(Additional information)

What to do during and after an earthquake

What you do during and immediately after an earthquake may make life-and-death differences for you, your family and your neighbors. These rules from Salt Lake County Emergency Services will help you survive.

During the shaking

1. Don't panic! The motion is frightening, but unless it shakes something down on top of you, it is harmless. The Earth does not open up, swallow a neighborhood and close shut. Keep calm and ride it out.

2. If the quake catches you indoors, stay indoors. Take cover under a desk, table, bench or in doorways, halls and against inside walls. Stay away from glass.

3. Don't use candles, matches or other open flames during or after the tremor. Douse all fires.

4. If an earthquake catches you outside, move away from buildings and utility wires. Once in the open, stay there until the shaking stops.

5. Don't run through or near buildings. The greatest danger from falling debris is just outside, close to outer walls.

6. If you are in a moving car, stop as quickly as safety permits, but stay in the vehicle. A car is an excellent seismometer and will jiggle fearsomely on its springs during the earthquake, but it is a good place to stay until the shaking stops.

After the shaking:

1. Check your utilities, but do not turn them on. Earth movement may have cracked water, gas and electrical conduits.

2. If you smell gas, open windows and shut off the main valve. Then leave the building and report gas leakage to authorities. Don't re-enter the house until a utility official says it is safe.

3. If water pipes are damaged, shut off the supply at the main valve.

4. If electrical wiring is shorting out, shut off current at the main meter box.

5. Turn on your radio and television (if conditions permit) to get the latest emergency news.

6. Stay off the telephone except to report an emergency.

7. Don't go sightseeing.

8. Stay out of severely damaged buildings. Aftershocks can shake them down.