Lessons from Napa: Earthquake warns Utahns of sleeping giant

By Emilee Bench, Deseret News

Published: Sun, Aug. 31, 2014, 8:05 p.m. MDT

 A truckload of fencing is brought to Second Street outside the earthquake damaged building that housed the Carpe Diem wine bar Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014, in Napa, Calif.

A truckload of fencing is brought to Second Street outside the earthquake damaged building that housed the Carpe Diem wine bar Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014, in Napa, Calif.

(Eric Risberg, AP)

SALT LAKE CITY — Derek Moore remembers waking up at shortly before 3:30 in the morning, terrified.

Though he was asleep, the long-time Napa resident said he had an instant awareness of what was happening.

"When the earthquake struck, I knew immediately what it was," he said, recalling the violent shaking that hit wine country eight days ago.

His wife, December, began to yell. He did the only thing he could think of — he embraced her and told her everything was going to be OK.

"Even though in my heart really, I had no idea. And was just as terrified as I'm sure she was in that moment."

The stillness of complete darkness and silence followed.

"I was thinking, why aren't my children screaming?" he said, recalling the moment when his panic began to rise.

They fumbled for light and made it down their hallway toward Claire, 4, and Jack, 6.

Moore heard Claire opening her door, but couldn't hear anything from his son's room.

"When I turned the knob and went to open the door, I couldn't get in because something was blocking it," he said. "I started to yell for him and that's when he started screaming."

Lesson 1: Remain calm. It was the screaming for the child, not the earthquake that concerned young Jack.

The 6.0 quake near Napa sent glass and furniture flying. It was Jack's dresser drawer that kept him locked in his room.

Derek Moore was finally able to push it out of the way, collect his family and usher them through their hallways through broken glass and dislodged drawers, and out of the house.

Lesson 2: He said their family simply wasn't prepared.

"All the things that you're supposed to have, we don't," he said. "It's really ridiculous. I mean, we live in earthquake country."

And so do Utahns.

"We do live next to a sleeping giant," said Joe Dougherty, spokesman for the Utah Division of Emergency Management. "Eighty-five percent of the state's population lives along the Wasatch Fault." And much of what can be done, has not been done.

The risks

"We do have a significant number of older homes in Utah," Dougherty said. "It's not the old that makes them unsafe, it's the materials that they're built out of.

These unreinforced masonry dwellings, buildings that are made of brick without a wooden frame, are frequent among Utah homes.

According to a 2012 Catastrophic Earthquake Response Plan, there are 147,200 unreinforced masonry buildings in the 12 counties closest to the Wasatch Fault.

Ninety-two percent of the building stock in those counties is residential.

Todd Kiser, commissioner of the Utah insurance department, said less than 10 percent of business and home owners in the state have earthquake insurance.

He said most policies do not include earthquake coverage.

Kiser said Utah Gov. Gary Herbert wants Utahns to know the insurance department is there to help. Kiser also said Utahns should ask themselves the "hard questions" once a year.

"Dont' assume that you have coverage," he said.

So far in 2014, Dougherty said Utah has had five earthquakes with a magnitude 3 or higher. Three were in Sanpete County, one near Magna and one east of Bountiful.

About every 30 years, Utah will have an earthquake near magnitude 6, Dougherty said. The last one was a 5.9 in St. George in 1992.

"We do have that risk and most of Utah's population lives really, really close to the Wasatch fault," he said. "Which is what we think will be the primary cause of a major devastating earthquake in Utah."

Fault lines

Katherine Whidden, research seismologist at the University of Utah, said Utah has the potential for a magnitude 7 earthquake on the Wasatch fault.

"That's the worst-case scenario," she said.

The Wasatch fault has five main segments: the Brigham City fault segment, the Weber, Salt Lake City, Provo and the Nephi segment.

An earthquake to the Salt Lake City segment would be the most devastating.

"If there's a magnitude 7 (earthquake) we can expect severe shaking, major damage to buildings, injuries. Even, we would certainly expect deaths," she said.

Lesson 3: Have food and water. Derek Moore said his family had maybe one bottle of water in the fridge, but no food supplies. And with his job as a reporter for the Santa Rosa Press Democrat requiring immediate action to report on the quake, the lack of supplies could have been a real challenge in the event of a larger disaster.

"With all the other pressing demands of daily life, it's just something that, no pun intended, fell through the cracks," Moore said.

Lesson 4: The car. Their car in the garage is normally kept with the emergency brake on. Does it really matter? The night of the earthquake the brake wasn't secured and the car was jostled into the garage wall, causing damage.

When it comes to earthquake preparedness, Dougherty said it's all about baby steps.

"There is a lot to do and that's OK. Just start with something today, do one thing now, and then do something next week," he said. "Gradually build up to where you're in a really good state of preparedness."

Lesson 5: Do something. Dougherty's own family started with simple tasks like strapping their water heater to the wall, something he said took about 30 minutes and cost less than $20.

In case of an earthquake, his family will have access to water and eliminated the chance of a gas leak or fire.

Another resource is the Be Ready Utah website which encourages Utahns to make a plan, get a kit, be informed and get involved.

Lesson 6: "Have a plan with your family," Whidden said. "There could be a fault scar, and by that I mean a vertical offset of five to 10 feet in the middle of the city where the fault is."

For example, parents working one side may not be able to get to children who attend school on the other.

Because there is no way of knowing how long you could be on your own in an emergency, Whidden recommends having at least a 72 hour kit.

Lesson 7: You may not want to turn off the gas. Dougherty said it is also important to know your own home, like where to shut off the water or gas. But turning off your gas isn't necessarily an immediate action.

"You should shut off your gas if you can see visible damage to your gas line, if you smell or near natural gas escaping then you want to make sure you shut that down."

Moore said he shut off the gas but then it took hours on the phone with the gas company to get the gas company to get it turned back on.

Dougherty also invited Utahns to do a home hazard hunt.

"Look around your home and look for those things that could fall over," he said.

That means TV's, pictures, vases, and anything that could go flying. Particularly furniture.

"Furniture to the earth is a play thing," he said. "That can be tossed over very easily."

Furniture and TV straps can keep things in place, and special putty to keep things on shelves. Keeping a pair of shoes or thick-soled slippers near your bed can protect feet from glass shards.

Whidden said it is best to prepare beforehand, but reminds Utahns they shouldn't live in constant fear.

"It's important to be prepared, but it's not something to panic about."

Looking back on his experience, Moore said he wishes he had been more calm in his response.

"I mean, I was panicked, you know," he said. "I was yelling for (my kids.)"

But, Moore is grateful for the outcome they did have.

"I'm so, so thankful that even in our ignorance, we don't have any shelving in our kids rooms you know near their beds," he said. "It could have really been a disaster for us."

Email: eeagar@deseretnews.com

1. BYUalum
South Jordan, UT,
Aug. 31, 2014

This article is sobering, to say the least. How is one really prepared emotionally for something like this? We, however, can go through the steps physically as mentioned. Thanks for the warning.

2. My2Cents
Taylorsville, UT,
Sept. 1, 2014

It helps a lot when you have local government looking out for the welfare of citizens and development in earthquake zones, flood plains, and mud/landslide zones and regulate development according to the zoning laws.

In Utah the government leaders and developers go to great lengths and padding the pockets of many public officials to ignore and forget that there are any zoning laws.

The foot hills of the Oquirhs (West Jordan, Sandy, Draper) are restricted and zoned hazardous and no build zones for residential housing, but padding a few politicians pockets works every time. Homes and land slides and sinkholes abound and no one is accountable.

The same with the NSL mountain slide where documents before construction even began 8-10 years ago have popped up declaring this a high risk land slide and underground aquifers close to the surface but the politicians again got paid and the developer is destroying more lives and the city says its not their fault they let a builder endanger lives.

Point is, without government support we are at the mercy of conscientious government that seems unwilling to warn public of impending disasters zones so you can prepare for them.

3. BrentBot
Salt Lake City, UT,
Sept. 1, 2014

When you hear the "freight train" coming through your house, like we did in Chile's 8.8 earthquake, you should both slide out of bed and lie on the floor next to the bed. The resulting "triangle" could save your life in the event of a ceiling collapse.

4. Howard Beal
Provo, UT,
Sept. 1, 2014

This will be interesting. In Provo city we are having a bond election for 105 million to rebuild several schools including one of the two district high schools. Many of the buildings in the high school are extremely dangerous, one has cracks inside and outside the building or basically throughout the structure. It also has other issues such as carpet that is over 30 years old and crown molding coming off at places perhaps exposing children to mold, as well as substandard wiring, venting and plumbing throughout the building. But in the case of earthquake, a mild earthquake, let alone one in the 6.0 range, could bring the structure down completely perhaps killing dozens if not hundreds of students. It will be interesting to see if the Provo residents step up and pass the bond, or if they think it is okay to continually house children in substandard and dangerous buildings.

5. ulvegaard
Medical Lake, Washington,
Sept. 1, 2014

I think too many people have become complacent about things. We see almost daily on the news where some disaster: Quake, flood, drought, or even invasion - is going on and it is easy to rest comfortably in our easy chair as we watch the news.

I am convinced that there is not a parcel of ground on the planet which cannot be touched by some force or another to complicate our lives.

We can be grateful if our local governments or even national government has the best interest of the citizens at heart and is helping to prepare them. But we cannot count on that. It comes down to individual responsibility. Prepare yourselves. We can't anticipate every disaster, but often times, it is the act of preparation that will get us through, especially emotionally -- certainly more than relying upon government to rescue us.