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2015: The Year Salt Lake City Sees the 'Big One'?

Sobering facts about the city's vulnerability to a serious earthquake

Author: Trevor Quirk/Sunday, January 25, 2015/Categories: natural history, sustainability, environment

Since the early 1980s the citizens of Salt Lake and its environs have become increasingly familiar with the potential danger of a major earthquake, but many people outside Utah are unaware of the seriousness (or existence) of this problem.

After all, there are cities which most Americans know are threatened by earthquakes. In Los Angeles, the familiar rumblings of the San Andreas fault are regarded as weather by the locals and as old news by the rest of us. Yet there also exists a handful of American cities that face serious seismic threats that many don't know about. Not incidentally, those cities are often woefully under-prepared. For example, the journalist Jeremy Miller wrote an eye-widening story in 2006 about Boston's Earthquake problem. You read right: Earthquakes in Boston.

Much more vulnerable than Boston are the populated regions of Utah along the Wasatch Fault, including Salt Lake City. University of Utah seismologist Jim Pechman, who spoke to Deseret News in 2010, put the odds at 1-in-10 that Salt Lake City sees a magnitude 7 earthquake in the next fifty years. Deseret News also created a five-part series about this dilemma that contains some not-outlandish speculation on what a quake like that would do to the city.

So, will 2015 be the year? Statistically, probably not. But it might be worth learning more about this problem. The Utah Geological Survey created the (above) informative video tour of the Wasatch Front in Utah (the ambient music and cheery narration lend the video an unwitting black humor.) It gives a good sense of the scope of this issue, the geology behind it, and what cities have done to prevent damage.


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