Is Your Home On Utah’s Wasatch Fault Line? Read This First

One of the key elements of living in Utah is… well, the elements. Particularly if you happen to live among any of the five major Utah fault lines and zones. 

Visitors are often surprised that a state marked by such a considerably high amount of desert land can have such dramatic peaks and valleys in our temperature. They shouldn’t be. The only thing predictable about deserts is that the weather can frankly be absolutely unpredictable.  And if you happen to live on any of Utah’s fault lines, you may have already come to know more than a little about unpredictability.

The Utah Fault Lines And Natural Disasters

It might come as a shock to many residents who don’t live on the Wasatch fault line, but approximately 700 earthquakes occur annually in Utah.  That’s because only 2 percent of them can actually be felt, with slightly more than a dozen quakes registering a magnitude of 3.0 or higher on the Richter scale. And while earthquakes can occur virtually anywhere in Utah, the largest concentration of higher impact quakes (approximately 60 percent) are directly concentrated along the Wasatch Front.

Should this necessarily be a cause for alarm? It just might. Almost 75 percent of Utah’s population lives along the Wasatch Front, with many seismologists and epidemiologists indicating the probability of a massive earthquake of at least 6.7 or higher occurring in the next 50 years to be at least 18 percent. 

Why The Wasatch Fault Line Is Particularly Vulnerable To Earthquakes

Why The Wasatch Fault Line Is Particularly Vulnerable To Earthquakes
The Wasatch Fault Earthquake Maps

The Wasatch Front itself is the most active fault line in Utah, stretching over 240 miles from southern Idaho to central Utah. While major earthquakes are rare, occurring only once every 900 to 1,300 years along any one of its five major segments, geologists have predicted that both climate change as well as overdevelopment could compound their likelihood. The most recent high magnitude earthquake occurred back in 1600; almost 250 years before the arrival of modern settlers. 

The risk to homes along the Wasatch fault line is particularly significant. Many older homes constructed prior to 1980 suffer from substantial structural flaws which make them acutely vulnerable to the effects of even minor earthquakes, with the chief flaw primarily being unreinforced masonry.  When houses are constructed with multiple layers of brick, stone or other building materials and lack any supporting barriers, the chances of debris and outright collapse are increased significantly.

Unfortunately, most homeowner insurance policies in Utah do not include coverage in the event of earthquakes. And should you actually find a provider specializing in additional earthquake coverage, be prepared to pay up to $1,000 extra annually.

What To Expect From An Earthquake As A Resident Along The Wasatch Front 

Luckily, we have one of the best public infrastructures in the country, and our emergency response teams are fully prepared to react immediately to any natural disaster occurring along Utah’s fault lines. In fact, just as recently as September, it was announced that FEMA and other federal aid grants amounted to over $2 million in response to the 5.7 Magna earthquake which struck Salt Lake and Davis counties back in March. https://earthquakes.utah.gov/magna-quake/ 

But what can you expect from the chances of a 7.0 earthquake? Salt Lake City has predicted the following worst case scenario

  • An estimated 350,000 people may ultimately be displaced.
  • Up to 85 percent of homes can expect moderate to severe damage
  • Basic services and utilities, including water, gas and electricity could be interrupted for months on end.
  • The vast majority of roads and freeways (including I-15) may ultimately be impossible to travel immediately following an earthquake.

Tips For Homeowners Along Utah Fault Lines

  • If you’re a Salt Lake City resident, the city has instituted a program known as Fix the Bricks which provides emergency funds for seismic retrofitting of homes with unreinforced masonry. The funding, which is drawn from annual FEMA grants, can typically allow compensation of up to $24,000 for home repair as a preemptive defense against natural disasters. To find out if you’re eligible for the Fix the Bricks program, simply enter your address into a building damage estimate map.  If eligible, email a program representative at fixthebricks@slcgov.com or cal (801) 799-3698 to discuss your options.
  • Earthquakes are an uncertainty, despite the relatively high risk along any of Utah’s fault lines. And earthquake insurance can come with an extremely high deductible. Seismic retrofitting may be expensive for homeowners who aren’t eligible for public aid, but it’s not simply a more cost effective solution. It can ultimately increase the value of your home.
  • Create an emergency communication plan, including friends, family members and emergency contacts outside of Utah, in the event of any natural disaster occurring where you could potentially find yourself displaced.
  • Landslides can be a common result of earthquakes and are actually much more frequent in Utah. But just like earthquakes, they’re also generally not covered by your homeowner’s policy. Consider building reinforced fences and walls around some of the more vulnerable sections of your property as a line of defense against landslides and look for cracks in the grounds and soil as well as saturated ground in otherwise dry areas around your home. 
  • If you live in a particularly earthquake-prone area, you may be considering selling your home and leaving Utah altogether. While we hope this actually isn’t the case, you might find that both the value of your home as well as potential buyer interest likely isn’t going to be all that high as a result. At Gary Buys Houses, we purchase homes all throughout Utah, including earthquake vulnerable regions along the Wasatch Front and even houses which have faced significant damage as a result of natural disasters. We’ll purchase your home as is, often in as little as 3 – 5 business days and without the need for costly repairs.

Earthquakes may be both a serious and enormous threat, but a little common sense can go a long way. And so can safety precautions. Be aware. Be calm. But above all? Be safe.

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