Brigham City has a better chance than most Utah cities to be the site of the next major earthquake along Utah's Wasatch Front, a U.S. Geological Survey expert says.
David Schwartz, a geological expert, spoke Monday in the opening session of a two-day Wasatch Front Earthquake Conference called to review six earthquake-related bills that were not passed in the 1990 Legislature. The conference is also designed to mastermind a comprehensive program that lawmakers can consider next year."Brigham City . . . could very likely be the site of the next earthquake," Schwartz said. "And the probabilities are reaching the point of real concern."
Brigham City Police Chief Charlie Earl said city officials recognize the threat of a major temblor and are preparing emergency-response teams with new information from the federal government.
Schwartz said he gives Brigham City an 8 percent to 15 percent probability of experiencing a significant earthquake within the next 50 to 100 years and a 30 percent to 50 percent probability within the next 100 years.
"That is a very high probability. It is higher than chance," said Schwartz, who analyzed the Oct. 17, 1989, Loma Prieta earthquake in the San Francisco Bay area.
Schwartz said an earthquake in Brigham City of the magnitude of Loma Prieta, which measured 7.1 on the Richter scale, would cause damage along the entire Wasatch Fault, which runs south to Nephi.
He predicted "large-scale, widespread" damage on the Wasatch Front if a quake that size occurred anywhere along the fault.
Schwartz emphasized that the higher probability of an earthquake in Brigham City does not rule out a significant earthquake anywhere along the fault.
As for the extent of damage, Schwartz pointed out that the Loma Prieta quake's epicenter was in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the same distance from San Francisco as Brigham City is from Spanish Fork.
The earthquake bills introduced during the recent legislative session failed because sponsors didn't coordinate their efforts, Sen. Craig A. Peterson R-Orem, told 200 participants at the conference during a panel discussion among sponsors of the earthquake bills.
"We were not together in an effort; the governor's office wasn't with us. Those efforts need to be in place to effectively pass any piece of legislation."
Peterson said budget restraints also prevented the bills from passing this year. As an example, he cited shortfalls in funding for social programs.
"We are losing lives. We are unable to provide low-income people with reasonable medical care because of the lack of funding," he said. "How do you tell them that we are going to put money into seismic instrumentation instead of food on their tables?"
One of the failed bills would have required earthquake safety assessments of public school buildings along the Wasatch Front and set up a matching fund to pay for the improvements.
Had the bill passed, state officials would have estimated the cost of reinforcing school buildings too weak to safely withstand an earthquake.
According to the bill's sponsor, Rep. Kim Burningham, R-Bountiful, most Utah school districts aren't examining their buildings to determine how much danger exists in the event of an earthquake. Burningham said only the Salt Lake School District has been doing enough.
"Beyond that, the other school districts are doing almost nothing - sitting on their hands; largely, I would suggest, because the thought of retrofitting those schools and the cost associated with it is monumental," Burningham said.
Other bills that failed in the session would have required modernization of the state's seismic instrumentation, required all of the state's firefighters to be trained in earthquake rescue and required the state commissioner of insurance to make available publications describing possible insurance coverage for earthquake damages and losses.
Although the bills failed last year, organizers of the conference hope lawmakers will reintroduce them in 1991 so Utahns can be prepared for earthquakes.
Results of the two-day conference will be given to the legislative interim committee and will provide the base from which bills will be drafted for next year's session beginning in January.