In our opinion: Mother Nature reminds us of the need for preparedness

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Emergency personnel sit on highway 89 near I-84 as fire burns homes and property on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017.

As Texans clean up after one hurricane, another bears down on the Florida coast; in Utah, meanwhile, skies are a constant shade of beige from wildfires dotting the Western landscape.

We are in one of those periods in which the fury of nature has presented itself as a clear and present danger, which happens to coincide with September being National Preparedness month. Among other events, Salt Lake City will stage an Emergency Preparedness Fair, and anyone concerned about whether they are ready to meet the threat of a natural disaster should consider showing up.

Utah is not hurricane territory, and flooding and wildfires are generally contained to those areas most susceptible. But we do live in the so-called earthquake belt, and just as news reports poured in from the devastation in Texas, a swarm of medium-size quakes rattled portions of northern Utah and southern Idaho. A 5.3 magnitude quake was reported over the Labor Day weekend with aftershocks following in the next couple of days. Think of it as a “shake-up” call, appropriately timed to give meaningful reference to the subject of emergency readiness.

Scientists give us a 50-50 chance of experiencing a 7.0 magnitude earthquake along the Wasatch Front in the next 50 years. It could happen tomorrow, or it could happen in the dead of winter, during a January blizzard when our infrastructure is most vulnerable. Whenever it occurs, it will result in numerous casualties and property damage, and thousands will be forced out of their homes. Water and natural gas lines will rupture. Electrical systems will falter, and we will be immersed in darkness without heat and perhaps without ample supplies of potable water — a grim scenario that most of us like to avoid thinking about. That’s why designating a month each year to think about it is an important exercise.

Only a small fraction of homeowners in Houston carried flood insurance, and they now are forced to rely on public assistance to clean up and rebuild where necessary. The state has asked the federal government for $150 billion in aid, roughly the…

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