After you read this story, walk around your home and picture it shaking violently.
Furniture is shifting, glass is breaking, kids are freaking out.
Take note of which objects are liable to fall? Are bookcases secured to walls? Where are the safest spots for you and your loved ones to reach?
Take a deep breath and keep looking. Imagine it’s nighttime. Where are your shoes and flashlight? Are your appliances connected to gas and water lines with rigid fittings that could rupture? Where are your gas and water cutoff valves?
Next, check your emergency kit. Are there enough provisions and first-aid supplies to get your family by for 72 hours? How much water have you stored? Are the jugs and disaster kit in a safe place?
[Read more: A year after Magna earthquake, here is what Utahns are doing to prepare for the big one.]
These are just a few of the many questions Utahns should consider when preparing for an earthquake. This is the type of natural disaster that would affect the most Utahns and leave the most seriously injured or dead. A major quake, magnitude 6.7 or greater, will strike the Wasatch Front at some point. It’s only a matter of when. And with 80% of the state’s population living within 15 miles of a fault, the toll on life, infrastructure and property could be devastating.
“Up to a million people could still be without water in their homes 90 days after the quake,” said Lisa Grow Sun, a Brigham Young University law professor who serves on the board of Envision Utah. Because so many sewage treatment plants are built in areas prone to liquefaction, wastewater systems could be down for even longer.
A year after the magnitude 5.7 quake rocked the Salt Lake Valley, public safety officials are reaching out to residents, reminding them they live in earthquake country and to prepare accordingly. A great place to start is the state Division of Emergency Management’s Be Ready website and the guidebook “Putting Down Roots in Earthquake Country.”
The first step is making a plan with your family for what to do in the event of a disaster, then rehearsing it. When the ground starts moving, officials recommend, you should “drop, cover and hold on.”
Next is a putting together a 72-hour kit with enough nonperishable food (don’t forget pets) and gear to get you through the first three days, including first-aid items, hygiene supplies, cash, clothing (for warm and cold weather), flashlights, spare batteries and a radio.
Always keep a spare set of shoes and a working flashlight next to every bed. Identify safe places to store jugs full of water where they will be safe and accessible. It also would be nice to have a camp toilet handy.
Make sure your home is safe from falling objects, which cause the greatest number of earthquake injuries. Ensure heavy things are stored close to the floor. Secure top-heavy furniture to wall studs. Use only closed hooks to hang mirrors and framed art on walls and never hang such items over a bed.
Ruptured waterlines can cause extensive interior damage, and breached gas lines pose a risk of explosion. Be ready to shut off them off at the valves leading into the home.
Have your plumbing and gas lines professionally inspected, and replace any pipes that appear corroded or worn. Replace all rigid appliance connections with flexible lines and install excess-flow gas-shutoff valves.
Still, there is a limit to what this kind of preparation can accomplish, Sun cautioned, especially in such an urbanized state, where most people rely on utility systems that only governments and major companies can harden and get back up quickly.
“We should have water stored, but nobody can store a month’s worth of water,” Sun said. “While it’s really important that individuals prepare for disaster, we also need to think about how we can do some of these things at a community level that will help our overall resilience because it’s just impossible for individual Utahns to take on these large systemic issues, or prepare their households to live for six months without sewer.”