The ground starts rumbling, buildings start crumbling, students and professors seek protection under desks, an earthquake has just hit Westminster College.
Scenarios like this are possible because the entire earth’s crust above the western United States is stretching. As a result, parts of the crust are cracking and this leads to earthquakes, said geology professor Dave Goldsmith.
“It’s sort of like bending a ruler,” Goldsmith said. “You can only stretch it so far before it cracks.”
The Wasatch Fault, running north to south through Salt Lake City, is one of these cracks, according to the U of U Seismograph Stations.
“The really really steep part of 1300 S leaning to 1300 E, that’s pretty much the face of the fault,” Goldsmith said.
A major earthquake strikes the Wasatch Front region approximately every 400 years. The chances that a major earthquake occurs in the next 50 years are about 25 percent, according to the U of U Seismograph Stations.
“It is not a question of if, it is a question of when, it will happen,” Goldsmith said. “It is just the question of whether it is going to happen in 10 years, 200 or 2000. I vote for 2000 if anybody asks.”
Goldsmith said, in the case of an earthquake, the older brick buildings like Dick, Malouf and Bassis, are the most likely to collapse.
“I don’t think I am as concerned as I should be because literally every year they were like it’s about to happen and then it hasn’t,” said Molly Kade, a Westminster student and Salt Lake City local. “I have not heard anything about earthquakes since I got [to Westminster]. It would be good to know, but I am not super worried.”
Westminster has several emergency plans in place for various scenarios including an earthquake specific plan. These plans are to ensure safety because many of the buildings on campus were built before earthquake safety regulations were set in place.
“It is really difficult to say exactly what would happen on campus if we were to have an earthquake because there are so many factors that contribute to that,” said Bri Buckley, director of Campus Safety. “Your best survival is going to depend on where you are in that situation.”
In order to protect life, Westminster’s Emergency Preparedness webpage outlines three different earthquake scenarios and how individuals should act in each of them.
If you are inside a building, ‘Drop, Cover, and Hold On’
- Get as low to the ground as possible.
- Avoid bookshelves or other objects stored at height.
- Take cover under a sturdy piece of furniture and cover the back of your head with one arm, while holding onto the furniture with your other hand.
- Evacuate the building after the earthquake, if it is safe to do so. Make your way to the nearest earthquake assembly point.
If you are outside during an earthquake
- Don’t try to rush indoors while the earthquake is in process.
- Try to get into as open a space as possible.
- Drop, cover, and hold on, protecting your head and neck with both arms
- Wait for the earthquake to stop before trying to move, and be aware of hazards that may have been created by the earthquake (downed power lines, broken gas lines, etc.)
- Make your way to an assembly point and check in with the building guardians.
If you are driving during an earthquake
- Do not try to exit the vehicle.
- Stop driving as soon as it is safe to do so.
- Avoid parking near gas stations or under trees, bridges, overpasses, or power lines.
- Wait for the earthquake to stop before trying to move the vehicle. It may not be safe to continue driving. If you can drive, use extreme caution and avoid any areas of the road that appear to be damaged. Avoid bridges and ramps altogether.
There are also three earthquake assembly areas on campus. The Dumke Field covers the west side of campus, the Village Green for the area on the south side of the creek and the Foster Hall parking lot covers the east side of campus, Buckley said.
Buckley said, because the effects of a major earthquake are very unpredictable, campus security relies on people being prepared and familiar with the safety procedures.
“There are things that we depend on our campus community to do, which include keeping your contact information up to date for the emergency notification system,” Buckley said. “You can do that by going to the self-service portal and making sure that your contact information in your user profile is up to date.”
Anne-Solene Bregou, psychology major and Wasatch Fault research assistant for the psychology and geology departments, said she agrees with Buckley.
“There is that [emergency] system, but it relies a hundred percent on student preparedness if an earthquake would happen,” Bregou said. “Westminster has its responsibilities when you know that only one building on campus can actually resist to some kind of earthquake. It is [Westminster’s] responsibility to let people know that an earthquake can happen.”
To raise awareness the Wasatch Fault research team is going to install a seismometer in Meldrum, which displays seismic activity.
Additionally, Westminster will participate in the the Great Utah ShakeOut in April 2019, a statewide earthquake drill, Buckley said.
“I have been working with some student groups who are interested in facilitating an educational event this semester,” Buckley said. “Probably at the end of February or beginning of March we are going to invite and promote [earthquake awareness] to as many people as possible.”
*Anne-Solene Bregou is on the Westminster College ski team with reporter Raffael Breu.