This blog post is one in a series leading up to the Great Utah ShakeOut. Click here for more information or here to register for the ShakeOut.
Have you ever experienced an earthquake? If you’re like many people living in Utah, you may not think you have. But it’s almost guaranteed that you've lived through one—you just didn’t know it.
You might be surprised to learn that Utah is a seismically active area, with an average of 700 earthquakes (including aftershocks) recorded each year throughout the state. Most of these quakes are small (1-3 on the Richter scale), so they go by unnoticed.
The majority of people living in Utah haven’t experienced a moderate or big quake (4+ on Richter scale), so the threat of a large-scale quake doesn’t seem real. However, Utah has had its share of moderate- to high-magnitude earthquakes.
What are the odds?
Because scientists have been able to determine the pattern of
Are you and your family prepared to survive the damage and disruption caused by a quake?
What actually happens during an earthquake?
You may have learned some basic geology in elementary school—but let’s recap. Most earthquakes happen along faults—the edges of tectonic plates that form the earth’s crust (the outermost layer of the earth). When the edges of these plates bump or slide against each other, it creates energy that radiates from a central point (the hypocenter, or the place below the surface were the plates collide). This energy causes the shaking and ground movement that we recognize as an earthquake. This ground movement can affect the surface in several ways.
Shaking of buildings and objects is the most noticeable effect in an earthquake. This can range from items simply rattling in place to falling off of shelving our out of cabinets and causing additional damage or injury. Landslides, mudslides, and liquefaction can also cause huge amounts of damage to homes, businesses, and community infrastructure (roads, power, sewage, etc.).
Liquefaction is also a problematic effect of earthquakes. Basically, liquefaction means that certain types of soil behave just like liquid during an earthquake. This liquid-land effect can cause some areas to become weak and create an open area that sinks lower than surrounding areas. Liquefaction will especially impact the western parts of Utah’s valley regions because it typically happens in areas where the soil is high in water content and made of various types of sedimentary soil, rather than solid bedrock.
One myth many people fear is that the ground can open up and swallow cars, buildings, and people during an earthquake. This doesn’t happen, but liquefaction can create muddy sinkholes that will engulf cars and cause serious damage to buildings, roadways, and other infrastructure as areas of the surface sink. This sinking can impact the foundations of homes, roadways, and utility lines. Damage to homes can make them uninhabitable, roadways can become blocked or impossible to drive on, and utility lines can break. Ultimately this can cause interruption in or total loss of sewage, gas, electricity, internet and phone services (not to mention potential backing up or flooding of sewage, gas leaks, and downed power lines in your neighborhood).
Where will they happen?
According to the “Putting Down Roots in Earthquake Country” handbook provided by the State of Utah, the Wasatch Fault is 240 miles long and runs through the central part of Utah. It typically falls right along the Wasatch Front—from Malad, ID to Fayette, UT. It is one of the longest and most active faults of its kind in the world.
About half of the damaging earthquakes in Utah since 1850 have occurred along the Wasatch Front. No area of the state is completely free of seismic activity, so everyone should be prepared to survive an earthquake and its damaging effects.
What damage can earthquakes cause?
The University of Utah Seismograph Stations website estimates that a 7.5 magnitude quake could cause significant damage as far as 50 miles away from the center of the quake. If a major earthquake were to happen along the central portion of the Wasatch Front, estimates of the damage to buildings alone reach the billions of dollars, and would impact families and businesses from Davis to Utah counties (and buildings would only make up about 20% of the total damages).
In addition to buildings being damaged, consider the cost of repairing freeways, dams, utility lines and sewage pipes, not to mention the homes, cars, and personal belongings of individual families. The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA’s) Hazards US loss-estimation model shows that if Utah experienced a magnitude 7 or greater quake, the following would likely be the result:
- $76 billion in damage and loss to buildings
- 237,000 households (1/5 of the state’s population!) would be displaced because their homes would be too damaged to live in
- 15,700 life-threatening injuries or fatalities
What do you think? Are you ready for a large quake? Have you lived through one already? Let us know what you think in the comments.
Thank you for sharing this blog. Keep posting more.
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You need to be prepared, no matter where you live. We live in Oklahoma and we had a 4.8 earthquake one night at 11:10PM. Our door frames shifted. We went outside afraid the house we were rent would collapse.
Storm, The Psychotic Housewife
We haven't had one since we have moved to Washington, which has surprised me. I worry that it will happen when we least expect it, and therefore end up unprepared.
Been through a couple of earthquakes when I was stationed in Japan.
Then about 2 years ago, I was in bed asleep and heard what I thought was an impending tornado. Jumped out of bed, shouted for my son to get to the bathroom. He was shouting the same to me. Then both of us realized that the sun was shining (early morning) and the ground was shaking.
An earthquake in north GEORGIA??!!! Who'd a thunk?
Turned out to be a 3.8 with an epicenter about 5 miles from here.
So, yeah, be prepared for an earthquake anywhere!
Those numbers leave a vivid picture, don't they?
Just live outside so u dont get crushed in an earthquake.
I have lived in Oklahoma for most of my life and while we constantly worry about tornadoes in the spring, it never really crossed our minds that we could ever experience (or feel) an earthquake here, until this past year. Recently Oklahoma experienced its largest earthquake on record, a 4.7. I felt it in my home and it was very scary. While there was little damage, it was still a terrifying experience.
Since then I have come to the realization that anything is possible, and not being prepared is not an option. I have just started working on my emergency preparedness plan and supplies. It's a big chore, but I much rather be prepared and not need the supplies and skills than be caught with nothing and not be able to care for my family.
Thanks for the article.
I went through a small one when I was visiting Family in China when I was a teen. It was the scariest thing I have ever been through and I hope I never have to go through one again. I live in AZ so its not a huge risk…thankfully.
I was in a grand earthquake and was grateful… as I had seen "The Exorcist" evening…when I found out my head wasn't going to spin and spit pea soup. Then it got real. You just become a numb gather all the facts and make your best guess as to what to do…the power and the damage around is so surreal. The experience of prepping may be the most valuable item..knowing what the priorities are to begin again.
I didn't really think this would ever be a problem for me in Dallas, but since they started fracking for gas drilling we have started having small ones. Guess I better take this serious and be ready. Thanks for the informative article.
Thanks for the tips. We have been having small ones in Arkansas.
I grew up in So-Cal. We had monthly nuclear and fire drills in the public schools. We were taught a doorway is a strong point in the house, if there was no where else to shelter, to stand in between the door frame. Never understood the point of the nuke drills- hide under your desk until the bell rings then go outside to be counted.
We live in NEPA – and felt a small earthquake last summer. We thought we were going crazy. But – it just made me realize that we can get them here too.
I grew up in N. Calif, went through Loma Prieta & many before, was in S. Calif for the Northridge. All laughed because I always had backstock of water until ours got knocked out; those that laughed had to come "borrow" some & they weren't laughing.
Things happen – fires, floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes. While no longer in EQ country, I'm more prepared than ever but a recent fire showed me how unprepared I was to bug out.
And still there are those who keep laughing…..
They had a minor one this week, the big one can come at anytime and without any warning. I for one would prefer to be prepared and never need it than the otherway around.
The one on the East Coast made me think differently. We have gas and I hadn't thought about the possibility of even a smallish earthquake causing a problem.
well I sure hope one never hits chicago
I've spent my entire life in the CA Bay Area and have been through many earthquakes. We have little ones here every day although you only feel the 3.0+ ones typically. Our house withstood the Loma Prieta 1989 earthquake with just a few minor cracks in the sheetrock so I feel good about the house standing. We worry mostly about power outages (have a generator) and water supply (which I am diligently working on!).
People need to realize that earthquakes are possible anywhere in the USA, not just the west cost. Right now I live in the midwest and, although few people are concerned about an earthquake here, they should reconsider because one of the most destructive quakes happened right here in the 1800's.
Wow we have shakes all the time up here in the big AK!
I've experienced a couple of small earthquakes in Redlands, CA. One felt like a wave, the other just a quick rattle. Living in central AZ, we don't have much cause for earthquake prep, but we do have a go bag and extra water and food and some other things stored. I hadn't known what liquefaction was, so I appreciate that lesson. :)
Hope we never experience one. Trying to become prepared for any disaster though.
I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area during the 1980 quake that disrupted the world series, collapsed several bridges and killed far too many people. Growing up in the Bay Area, I experienced more than my fair share of quakes, but I think because of that, I've become a little jaded about them. The last couple I've experienced, I didn't even leave the spot that I was in because I figured it was "just another earthquake." I realize that's not the right attitude to have, though.
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I dont live in ut but what a great idea! We have hurricanes/tornadoes the past few years in tx.it isso important to be prepared
I've never felt an earthquake, but I hope to be prepared in case I ever do encounter an earthquake. I like how this website gives useful information to help us be prepared for whatever may come our way!
I have never worried about ground opening up in an earthquake before, just damage from the shaking. But not after reading this informative article! We live in the midwest on the New Madrid fault line, and it is earthquake potential here. Thank you for the information.
I live near (but not on top of) the New Madrid fault line, so we occasionally get a very small shake every now and then. Some experts say that it's due for a big one again, and others say that it doesn't pose a threat. Either way, I'm not taking any chances—we're preparing!
I live within range of the New Madrin. So I am constantly getting ready, We actually had some here in AR possibly from "fracking" and I felt that pretty good last year.
Only a matter of time.
We're working to be prepared for an earthquake, but I don't know if we'll ever feel completely prepared.
We experienced one of the first earthquakes I've ever heard of for my area a year or two back. I had no idea what was going on, I thought a tree fell on the house. I actually ran outside. My wife, who used to live in California, laughed incredibly hard when she heard I ran outside, she was out of the state at the time. We'd just never had them here. Found out later it was a 3 and it was centered about 10 miles away from where I live. Now I have some idea of what they feel like…
My house isn't made from brick, but it is over 30 years old. Is there a cheap way of finding out if my home can withstand a 7-8 earthquake? Where is the safest place to be in your home during one?
They can happen anytime, anywhere. You have to be prepared for anything.
Never been through 1, but ill be ready.
I've been through 3 in Kentucky, but only one was a big one that hit Maysville, KY when I was around 16.
It completely destroyed our road back home, so we had to backtrack to Ohio and around. There were landslides and we were blocked with a building size road block where the road pushed into each other.
When we returned home my family told us what happened there. Their story convinces me that everyone needs this information. Every neighbor ran outside to see what was happening, my family did the same, and left my wheelchair-bound brother in the house. No one knew what to do so they just went back to what they were doing.
It could have been tragic, but thankfully there wasn't any more huge ones since. It doesn't mean it won't happen again.
I felt a small one in Colorado a few months back. I told my husband and he said "No." So, I looked up on the US Earthquake page the government has, and sure enough. He just didn't feel it because he was sleeping. Granted it was about 35 miles away from us, but I still know I felt it move the ground here. I've never lived through a big one before. I've been through a few hurricanes as a kid though, and that was scary enough with trees falling down around my grandfather's house.