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UTAH PROGRESSING IN DISASTER PREPARATION

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Utah is moving in the right direction, but much remains to be done in preparing for natural disasters, said Genevieve Atwood, a legislator, state geologist and director of the Utah Geological and Mineral Survey in the 1980s.

"I'm really hopeful about the future," she said. "The public at large is far more enlightened about our natural environment."Gone are the days, just 15 years ago, when legislators openly debated whether it was worthwhile to invest in earthquake-resistant structures because "man can't prepare for an act of God."

Floods and other natural disasters of the 1980s made people realize that preparation can reduce damage by 20-to-50 percent. When the risk is posed by an earthquake, flood or mud slide, preparations can save hundreds of lives and billions of dollars, she said.

In the mid 1970s, few Wasatch Front hospitals were structurally fit to withstand an earthquake, she said, and now most have been upgraded. Similarly, dams are significantly better than a decade ago.

Schools and state government buildings are still far behind, but both institutions are moving toward taking remedial action in the 1990s, Atwood said. Local school boards also are helping improve public awareness of natural hazards by including more earthquake information in science curricula.