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Richmond council learns tips for surviving earthquake

March 18th, 2011 Posted in Opinion

Cache Valley could be isolated when the Big One hits.

By Kate Rouse

RICHMOND — In the wake of last week’s disaster in Japan, Councilwoman Terrie Wierenga stressed the importance of preparing locally for an emergency situation at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

“If an earthquake hit (Cache Valley), we could be cut off from supplies for a month,” Wierenga told the Hard News Cafe. “To get out of the valley, you have to go over either mountains or bridges.” Those mountains and bridges could easily become impassable in the event of a major earthquake, which Wierenga said is not that uncommon for this area.

The city of Richmond, which lies directly on the East Cache fault line, was the epicenter of a major earthquake in 1962, Wierenga said. The quake affected four states and measured an estimated 5.7 to 6.1 on the Richter scale, according to University of Utah seismograph stations. The earthquake was enough to cause $100,000 to $500,000 worth of damage in Cache Valley at the time, according to a 1962 Herald Journal article. It knocked out power lines in Logan and caused significant damage to houses and businesses all over Cache Valley, including the Richmond LDS Stake Center, which Wierenga said had to be torn down and rebuilt as a result of structural damage.

Due to the risk of another major earthquake, Wierenga said within the last three years the City Council has updated the design manuals for new buildings in Richmond. “We incorporated the most recent international building codes to address the fact that we do live in an earthquake zone,” she said. “And we have spring runoff, we will get floods.”

But even a major earthquake measuring 5.7 on the Richter scale is thousands of times less than the 8.9-magnitude quake that struck the Sea of Japan last Friday, causing a massive tsunami and claiming more than 10,000 lives so far. If building codes aren’t enough to prevent a mass emergency, Wierenga said Cache County and the city of Richmond do have emergency plans in place.

Wierenga is a certified member of CERT (Citizen Emergency Response Team), a volunteer organization trained to respond in an emergency situation. “In the case of a major disaster, we’ve got all of our CERT volunteers identified and we report down here to the fire department for our assignments, to go into the city to help out,” Wierenga said.

“We’re trained to do what they call triage, which means we go through and we have to make the decision, this person has a chance to live, this person doesn’t. … We’re trying to save the maximum amount of people in the shortest amount of time.”

Wierenga said there is an emergency call tree in place, where the mayor and council members with access to heavy operating equipment will be notified first in case of an emergency. CERT will work closely with the fire and rescue department and local LDS wards, which have their own emergency plans for people living within that particular area, Wierenga said.

“We have touched base with the (Richmond LDS) stake emergency coordinator, and we have the information of what they have and where they’re supposed to report to (in an emergency),” Wierenga said. “CERT can do the base work that will free up professionals to be doing life-saving work, is what it amounts to.”

Wierenga also said there are eight individuals in the city who are certified by the Red Cross to operate emergency shelters, and the city has potential shelter locations identified. Those shelters include Richmond City Hall, local schools, and even at some of the LDS ward houses, she said.

“The thing with having a set emergency plan is, what happens if where we’re all supposed to gather is wiped out?” Wierenga said. “And so you have to plan for contingencies as well.”

While Wierenga said that Cache Country has two emergency trailers, each loaded with basic medical and search and rescue supplies, food and water, she stressed the importance of having a 72-hour kit in each household, and within easy reach in case of an emergency.

“There are wonderful kits, but if you can’t reach them in an emergency, they’re worth nothing,” Wierenga said. “You need to have them where you can just reach and grab on your way out the door. You don’t have time to run down to the basement pantry.”

She advised keeping a 72-hour kit next to an outside door or window, so it could still be reached in case of a structural collapse or flood. She said it’s important for every family to have extra food, water and medical supplies because, whether or not they find themselves involved in an emergency situation, because “you never know when you will be called upon to provide that for someone else.”


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