State lawmaker requests funds to bring early earthquake warning system to Utah

Feb 1, 2024, 5:17 PM

FILE: Fred Moesinger, owner of BTG Wine Bar and Caffe Molise in Salt Lake City, and Dave Smith, a m...

FILE: Fred Moesinger, owner of BTG Wine Bar and Caffe Molise in Salt Lake City, and Dave Smith, a maintenance worker, prepare to board up windows that broke in the building after a 5.7 magnitude earthquake centered in Magna hit early on Wednesday, March 18, 2020. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

(Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY— A Utah lawmaker is asking the legislature for enough money to begin taking the steps to bring an early earthquake warning system to the Beehive State.

Rep. Doug Owens, D-Millcreek, asked state lawmakers for $5 million in one-time funding and $1 million annually. If completed, the project could alert Utahns seconds ahead of an earthquake’s impact.

This is the second time since October that lawmakers on Utah’s Capitol Hill have talked about an early earthquake warning system.

Owens presented the proposal to the Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environmental Quality Appropriations Subcommittee Thursday. He had help from Bill Keach, the state geologist and director of the Utah Geological Survey.

How the early earthquake warning system works

Keach said that Brigham City is the area most likely to get a major earthquake along the Wasatch Front.

If this early earthquake alert system were up and running and a major earthquake hit Brigham City, residents in Ogden would hypothetically get one second’s notice.  Salt Lake City would get 16 seconds and Provo would get 33 seconds to brace for impact.

The alert would be sent to several places:  telephones and TVs, road signs, and even certain infrastructure.

For example, gas lines would receive the alert and automatically shut down, reducing the risk of damage or explosion. Trains, including FrontRunner, would slow down or come to a stop, preventing a potentially fatal derailment.

“The big damage in an earthquake often is not the earthquake itself, it’s the aftermath and … the loss of utilities … for a long time,” Keach said in Thursday’s hearing.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency estimates a 7.0 earthquake could have an $80 billion short-term impact on the Wasatch Front.

The proposal still needs approval from the full legislature. Keach said if the state cannot provide the full $5 million, he would lobby at the federal level or at least get the project started.

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State lawmaker requests funds to bring early earthquake warning system to Utah