SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Early in the morning on Nov. 12, 2022, Brigham City was hit with a 3.6 magnitude earthquake, making it one of five earthquakes around a magnitude of 3.0 since the month started.
“We need to remember we’re in earthquake country,” said University of Utah Research Seismologist Katherine Whidden.
That means Utah regularly gets hit by hundreds of small earthquakes each year. Moderate or potentially damaging earthquakes (magnitude 5.5 to 6.5) occur on average every 10 to 50 years. 7.0 to 7.5 magnitude earthquakes are the largest expected in Utah and occur about every 150 years, according to the Utah Geological Survey (UGS).
Which begs the question, when is the next big earthquake? While researchers can’t predict when an earthquake will occur, there are clues that could help researchers determine an idea of potential future destruction.
“There is about a 50% chance of a large damaging earthquake in Salt Lake City in our lifetimes,” Whidden said.
Salt Lake Valley is home to some of the oldest buildings in the state, and any building or home that was built before the 1970s was not required to reinforce structures to protect against earthquakes, which could result in devastating consequences if not probably prepared.
For that very reason, Salt Lake City has put it upon itself to help prevent a major disaster. Fix the Bricks offers a “unique opportunity for homeowners to implement seismic retrofits to their Unreinforced Masonry homes (URMs).”
The program has only been around since April, but in that short time, there has been huge interest and a long waiting list. The reason for that long waiting list, says Tyler Durfee, policy and program Manager with the housing stability division in Salt Lake City, is that no applicant, unless that applicant does not fit the program, will be rejected.
“The biggest challenge is the amount of need in Salt Lake City. We’ve had a lot of applications. We’ve actually had close to 4,000 applications, and in the next six months, we are planning on going through that application list again and seeing if they’re still interested,” Durfee said. “But we don’t have enough funding for all 4,000 people who have applied, and so we’re continually applying for more funding [from FEMA].”
The program is 75% funded by FEMA and 25% funded by the home or property owner for the retrofit. The retrofit varies in price, but it ranges between $16,000 – $30,000, so that homeowner match runs between $6,000 – $12,000.
For those who are in low to moderate income households, Salt Lake City has appropriated additional funding specifically from Salt Lake City, and not FEMA of about $84,000 to help with the homeowner match.
This program is specific to Salt Lake City residents, but the state is also in the process of looking into a state-wide potential program.
“It is absolutely our goal to help homeowners or property owners as much as we can so they can feel that safety and security that in the event there is an earthquake they have the time to get their family, their loved ones… that they can grab everybody,” Barb Tobin, grant administrator for the Fix the Bricks program, said.
Outside of fixing your house, Whidden advises being prepared. “Have a 72-hour kit, but a week is better, with food, water and medicine. Have an earthquake plan. If you’re at home or your kids are at school, what do you do? Best to think before it happens.”