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Seismic safety steps, large and small

Dec 30, 2019, 1:53 PM
seismic retrofit earthquake prep...
Be Ready Utah recommends keeping shoes and a flashlight next to your bed, so you can evacuate more quickly if there's an earthquake. Photo: Getty Images

SALT LAKE CITY — As many buildings around Utah undergo seismic upgrades, Utah officials say you can be prepared for an earthquake as well.

Base isolators rest under the Utah State Capitol building so it can sway in the event of an earthquake. Other buildings around Utah, including the Salt Lake Temple, are also getting seismic upgrades. The temple will be closed for the next four years; the capitol building was closed between 2004 and 2008 for retrofit work.

“We know we live on a large earthquake fault,” said Be Ready Utah manager Wade Mathews. “The Wasatch Fault lies along where 90 percent of our population lives.”

A seismic shift in preparation

Experts say there’s about a 50 percent chance the Wasatch Front will play host to a magnitude six or larger earthquake sometime in the next half-century.

According to Mathews, a majority of any deaths or life-threatening injuries in a major earthquake would likely come from the collapse, either total or partial, of unreinforced masonry buildings: brick or block structures built before current seismic standards. He said Utah has about 147,000 unreinforced masonry buildings, many of which are homes.

The Utah Division of Emergency Management recommends people who own a home that fits into that category consider doing a seismic upgrade. In Salt Lake City, residents can apply for a grant to help with the expense.

What else can you do?

Even without doing major structural work to your home, Mathews says there are steps your family can take to stay safe, like securing loose, heavy objects such as bookshelves and water heaters. Most stores will sell anchor kits to help you do that.

“Move heavy objects from high shelves down to low shelves. Use velcro or contact paper or museum putty so things don’t fly off as easily,” he advised.

Similarly, he suggested using child locks on kitchen cabinets to prevent cans and plates from flying out during an earthquake.

Keeping a pair of shoes and flashlight next to every bed, he suggested, will help you evacuate more quickly and safely if you need to. Then, if the earth moves, he said, make sure your family knows to drop, cover and hold on.

“Get under a desk or chair or table and hold on. Or crouch and lean up against a wall that doesn’t have glass on it. That’s what drop, cover and hold on means,” he said.

If you do evacuate, Mathews said, make sure every family member knows where to meet up. Having a plan ahead of time, he said, makes sure everyone knows what to do.

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Seismic safety steps, large and small