Last Updated: December 21, 2017, 3:49 pm

Natural disasters pose real threat


The end is nigh.

Civilization has managed to survive an onslaught of apocalypses in the past two decades. From 1999’s Y2K to the ill-predicted rapture of Oct. 21, 2011, the human race has seen many supposed doomsdays come and go with little more than a heightened awareness. The upcoming Dec. 21 world expiration date is proving to be more of the same: general hype with little promise of follow-through.

However, preparing for a catastrophic event is never a bad idea. The end of civilization as we know it could possibly come to a screeching halt at any time, but chances are likelier that a regional area will fall victim to an act of nature.

The key to surviving any disaster, whether it is global or regional, is preparedness.

Rick Miller, Dixie State College adjunct science instructor, said southern Utah is susceptible to various forms of natural hazards. He said one particular trend would most likely continue as the earth warms.

“The most likely thing to happen here, and it’s going to reoccur even more frequently if the climate really is getting warmer, is flooding,” he said. “In the last seven years we’ve had two major floods, and the likelihood we’ll get more is pretty good.”

Miller said warming will put more moisture in the air, and that will increase the chances of having severe thunderstorms and flash floods. But St. George isn’t exclusively prone to flooding.

“The most critical thing, as far as we’re concerned around here, is mass movements,” Miller said.

Mass movements include rock falls, landslides and slumps. The latter is currently a problem on Black Ridge and in the Santa Clara area.   

And flooding and landslides are a few of the potential issues the St. George area could potentially have.

William Lund works for the Utah Geological Survey and co-authored the surface-fault-rupture-hazard map for the St. George and Hurricane metropolitan area. When it comes to southern Utah’s seismic activity, he knows his stuff.

“Southern Utah is definitely earthquake country,” he said. “The faults down here are not as rapidly active as the Wasatch faults in northern Utah, but we do have a number of faults down here.”

Miller and Lund both agreed that earthquakes are inevitable, but they won’t be hugely disastrous from a geological perspective.

“When they might occur is the unknown quantity,” Lund said. “That’s why it’s necessary for the residents of Washington County to be adequately prepared [for an earthquake].”

Lund said the most overlooked issue when it comes to earthquake preparedness is having a plan in place of where and when to locate loved ones after an earthquake strikes.

The St. George valley won’t experience toppled skyscrapers or huge suspension bridge collapses, but the desert is susceptible to ground shake. And Lund said ground shake could cause a fair amount of damage.

Ground shake will break apart roads, down power lines, rupture gas and sewage pipes, and disrupt communication. Lund said that, unlike the recent Santa Clara dyke break, ground shake wouldn’t affect just a small portion of one town.

“If you have a large earthquake on the Hurricane Fault, it’s going to affect the whole metro area,” Lund said. “Dad’s at work, mom’s at work, the kids are at school, and they’re all going to be affected.”

He said this is the reason families need to know where to go and when to go there if they’re ever separated. There may not be ways to communicate; knowing where and when to meet could be the first way to know if someone is hurt and needs assistance.

According to a Utah Seismic Safety Commission report titled “Putting Down Roots in Earthquake Country,” most of Utah’s population lives along an active earthquake belt, which just happens to run an almost identical course to I-15.

The safety guide lays out a comprehensive guide to earthquake preparedness and recovery, but there are a few simple steps St. George residents can take to help alleviate potential hazards.

First, identify potential hazards in the home. This means securing large items, like bookshelves into wall studs, and securing smaller items that could potentially become “dangerous projectiles” with removable earthquake putty. The guide warns not to hang heavy objects over beds and to be especially certain not to hang glass-covered art or mirrors above beds.

Second, make sure gas pipes are prepped for ground shake. This will most likely cost a few dollars if it’s done correctly, but preventing a potential explosion will be worth the money.

A plumber needs to evaluate all gas pipes that run to water heaters, stoves, dryers, and all other gas appliances, and make sure they are secured with flexible, stainless steel gas connectors.

Third, there needs to be a disaster plan in place. This means having everything laid out from where everyone will meet to what everyone will eat. A full list of suggested items to check off are included in the guide, but some notable things to keep in mind are know where utility shutoffs are in the house; keep a pair of shoes and a flashlight near the bed in case of a midnight emergency; and make sure 72-hour kits don’t just include food—they need to also include medication, hygiene products, first aid kits and even changes of clothes.

“One of the nice things about Utah is there is a strong tradition in this state for putting aside food and water for emergencies,” Lund said. “Those 72-hour kits are not a joke.”

Lund said to take a page from victims of Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina. Both storms left some people without food, water, shelter and medication for days. He said regional disasters have a huge impact on infrastructure, and it’s impossible to get an entire city back to working order in less than three days.

“It’s gas, it’s electricity, it’s roads,” Lund said. “You can’t just replace that and get everything running in a day or two. Some people [won’t be] out of power for just days but weeks.”

Miller, on the other hand, said earthquakes will be a problem for residents in communities like Stone Cliff, but he said the rest of the valley should be relatively OK if an earthquake should hit. But he doesn’t discount being prepared, either.

“I’d have some food on hand,” Miller said. “Just in case there’s some sort of national crisis—like a terrorist plot.”