Herald editorial: Be ready for Utah’s next natural disaster

April 7, 2019

With little more than a few hours’ notice, thousands of residents evacuated their homes last September, with scenes of laundry baskets full of odds and ends, trunks brimming with clothes and trash bags filled with food the common sight.

The Bald Mountain and Pole Creek fires didn’t claim any lives last year, nor did they destroy any homes, by some miracle. However, it was for many a firsthand experience in being ready for when an emergency strikes.

It’s impossible for us to know how many residents were ready to go with 72-hour kits, but we do know that Utah is known for its preparedness and planning when it comes to disasters. Almost every member of the Daily Herald Editorial Board has a 72-hour kit in their vehicle or in their home should the circumstances turn dire.

This week, we were reminded yet again of the need for preparedness via Provo’s emergency manager, Chris Blinzinger.

Blinzinger said that 96-hour kits — not 72-hour kits — should be the new normal when preparing for emergency situations.

Blinzinger based this assessment on the looming threat of an earthquake. We hear year after year that Utah is due for “the big one.” If a 7.0 magnitude earthquake were to hit today, Blinzinger said it would be not 72 hours, but 96 hours before any outside aid would be received.

It’s frightening to think that a disaster would isolate Utah Valley in such a way, but think of the primary means of transportation in and out of Utah County. Interstate 15 is by far the largest thoroughfare. Imagine a 7.0 magnitude earthquake striking the busiest portion of I-15 in Utah County near the Point of the Mountain. It’s not hard to imagine, considering the swarm of earthquakes near Lehi, Bluffdale and the northern boundaries of the county just months ago.

Consider also the countless recent stories of structurally unsound buildings that are in regular use, such as the Provo city offices and Timpview High School. It seems if someone so much as sneezes too close to Timpview High School, the whole thing will crumble.

And when the editorial board toured the Provo city offices prior to the bond vote last fall, we observed several structural issues, such as a crack running the vertical height of the building from the basement to a support beam.

As was seen last year with the wildfires, and with the acceleration of extreme weather quickening, it isn’t a question of “if” a disaster strikes, it’s “when.”

We join with emergency management experts such as Blinzinger in encouraging preparedness. We are so glad that Utahns in general are well-prepared for disasters. But we also know that Utah County in particular is home to tens of thousands of college students, whose propensity is typically not inclined to emergency preparedness. We understand this is usually due to lack of money and resources, for which we strongly empathize.

Emergency preparations can start small. One doesn’t need a full 96-hour kit immediately. Purchase an extra can of green beans or other inexpensive canned food during each grocery trip and before too long, a full kit’s worth of food is ready to go.

There are also typically expos, fairs or large sales where emergency preparation companies sell their wares, such as flashlights, radios and potable water, at reduced prices.

We highly encourage Utah County residents to sign up for emergency alerts at http://alerts.utahcounty.gov. It takes maybe five minutes, and the service provides crucial information in the event of a disaster in your area.

If you register today, you’ll likely receive your first notification on April 18 as a part of The Great Utah ShakeOut. This will be a test of the system and an opportunity for Utahns to practice their preparedness and drills should an earthquake hit are homes.

We are again grateful that for the most part, Utahns are already ahead of the curve for emergency preparedness. For those who are not, take the first steps toward preparedness today. Grab a backpack and start throwing some canned chili and water bottles in it. The residents of southern Utah County had a real disaster hit just months ago. We never know when the next disaster will hit.