The question of a significant earthquake striking Utah, especially along the Wasatch Front, is one of “when,” not “if.”
It’s the reason more than 920,000 Utahns will drop, cover, and hold on this Thursday as part of The Great Utah ShakeOut. Local schools, businesses, organizations and individuals can all participate by signing up at shakeout.org.
The idea behind The Great Utah ShakeOut is simple. On April 18 at 10:15 a.m., participants will drop to the floor, get under a table or solid surface, and hold on — the same actions recommended in the case of an earthquake.
April is National Earthquake Preparedness Month and it’s an opportunity to remind residents of the risk of earthquakes, according to Tooele County Emergency Management Director Bucky Whitehouse.
“We try to get folks to take the annual opportunity to look at their emergency preparedness plans (and) to learn more about earthquakes, because that’s the most catastrophic problem that we can have out here,” Whitehouse said.
The Oquirrh fault line lies along the Oquirrh Mountains in Tooele County and there will be some fracturing along the fault line in case of an earthquake, Whitehouse said. Most of the damage, however, will come from liquefaction of soil in low-lying areas closer to the Great Salt Lake with high water tables.
“Tooele County, as a whole, is not suspected to sustain the same kind or level of damage as our counterparts in the Salt Lake area,” Whitehouse said. “For that reason, it is thought to be a place where people will be sheltered from the Salt Lake Valley, in the Tooele Valley area.”
With Tooele County escaping the more significant damage expected along the Wasatch fault, it will likely be a staging area for agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“Much of the federal response to an earthquake will come into Tooele County and be deployed into the Salt Lake area,” Whitehouse said. “It’s quite possible that our population numbers could double in 96 hours.”
An earthquake in Salt Lake Valley would also mean outside relief efforts would be focused on residents there. As a result, Tooele County residents are encouraged to prepare to take care of themselves in the aftermath of an earthquake, according to Whitehouse.
“The response is going to be massive in size and scope,” he said. “The more resilient we can be as individual households, the better it’s going to be for everyone.”
Residents should store enough food for at least 96 hours, as well as a gallon of water per day for each member of the household over the same span, including pets. Homeowners should also know how to shut off their utilities such as water, electricity and gas, and the structural state of their homes.
In addition to being prepared at home, residents should be aware of alternate transportation and evacuation routes, Whitehouse said. If a significant earthquake hits Salt Lake Valley, the Interstate 80 corridor into Tooele County will likely be impassable for at least 96 hours.
With so much of the community commuting, it’s also important for residents to have plans if someone is trapped on the other side of the Oquirrh Mountains for an extended period of time.
Whitehouse said residents can also sign up for the Tooele Ready app, which contains information about planning for emergencies, contact information for first responders and links to Tooele Alerts, the county-wide alert system, and Tooele Responds, the county’s volunteer coordination system.
Residents can sign up for Tooele Alerts and Tooele Responds through tcem.org.