Earthquake Report Outlines Top Priorities

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Water and schools are among the Commission’s biggest concerns.

Salt Lake City — The Utah Seismic Safety Commission (USSC) calls on state policymakers to implement five actions to improve Utah’s resilience to a major earthquake. The USSC identified the five projects in partnership with local nonprofit Envision Utah and support from the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, the Structural Engineers Association of Utah and the Division of Emergency Management. Those recommendations are:

Keep water flowing by strengthening aqueducts.

Over two million Wasatch Front residents rely on aging aqueducts that need seismic improvements. If any one of these pipelines broke during an earthquake, hundreds of thousands of Utahns would be without water for six months or even longer.

Keep our kids safe by improving schools.

Many Utah students attend school in buildings that may be vulnerable to earthquakes. USSC recommends conducting feasibility studies that would identify which buildings can be strengthened and which need to be replaced.

Keep our communities and markets informed.

Many of the deaths or injuries that could happen in “the big one” will come from the large number of unreinforced masonry buildings (URMs) scattered across the Wasatch Front. These homes, schools and offices — generally built before 1976 with brick — often collapse during large earthquakes.

Keep our buildings standing through code enforcement.

The USSC recommends rigorous structural plan reviews by independent and qualified experts for larger, complex buildings. These reviews would ensure buildings adequately meet building code requirements for seismic safety.

Keep Utah ready to respond.

The USSC recommends a feasibility study for an Earthquake Early Warning (EEW) system. An EEW system can save lives and the economy by providing warning time to shut off various industrial, utility, and transportation systems before ground shaking begins.

“Addressing potential outcomes in a large earthquake can be overwhelming. These five recommendations are actions the State of Utah can take right now to become more resilient in the event of a major earthquake,” Jessica Chappell, engineer and vice chair of the USSC, said. “These projects are all within reach — we can start working on them right away.”

The USSC voted this morning to adopt these recommendations as part of a report to be issued to lawmakers and made available to the public. Over the coming months, members of the USSC will work with policymakers to support, fund and implement the recommendations.

“Utahns have a long heritage of preparing for the future,” said Ari Bruening, CEO of Envision Utah and an author of the report. “If ‘the big one’ hit today, it would be devastating. But if we start working together to put these strategies in place, we will all be better prepared to recover quickly and ensure Utah remains a great place to live.”


Seismic experts estimate a 43 percent chance of the Wasatch Front region experiencing a magnitude 6.75 or greater earthquake in the next 50 years. Should such an event happen, Utah’s way of life could be impacted for many years. Without proactive measures, an expected magnitude 7.0 earthquake on the Salt Lake City segment of the Wasatch fault (the “Big One”) would be among the deadliest disasters in U.S. history. It would leave hundreds of thousands of Utahns without shelter and critical lifeline services for many months.

The Utah Seismic Safety Commission is a consortium of delegates from the University of Utah Seismograph Stations, Utah Geological Survey, Structural Engineers Association of Utah, American Public Works Association, Envision Utah, Utah Division of Emergency Management, Utah Division of Facilities and Construction Management, Utah Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget, American Society of Civil Engineers, Utah Department of Transportation, University of Utah, Utah State Board of Education, Utah League of Cities and Towns, American Institute of Architects – Utah Chapter, the Utah Insurance Department.


Utah Seismic Safety Commission (USSC)