Odds of the Next Big Wasatch Earthquake

Odds of the Next Big Wasatch Earthquake

Neil Porras

New warnings for Utahn’s to prepare for a major earthquake. We have all heard the dire predictions of the earthquake that is set to hit the Wasatch fault line. It’s not much of “if, but when.” Geologist scientists are now saying the odds of it happening are about the same odds you face in a casino playing blackjack. With those odds are you willing to gamble that a quake won’t happen?


Randall Carlisle an ABC4 reporter traveled to Wells, Nevada because that is the closest city to Utah that suffered a recent major earthquake. Residents there remember what it was like.


“I just heard this rattling,” says Doug Gadd. “I thought a train was crashing into my house.”

Matt Holford says it went “Kaboom! When it did, I ran out the back door in time to see all the old buildings downtown fall down.”

“I thought a train had derailed,” remembers City Manager Jolene Supp. “Or maybe an airliner had wrecked. My husband was the one who said that was an earthquake.”

Current Mayor Layla Walz says “the floor just kind of dropped out from underneath us. It was almost as if we’d been standing on a rug and someone started shaking it. It was a big rolling effect and I was flopping.”

City Manager Supp estimates about $10 million in damages from the quake alone. Many downtown buildings crumbled. They’ve been torn down with piles of rubble serving as a grim reminder of what happened.

A team of 14 northern utah geologist concluded, “It could occur later today. It could occur tomorrow. It could occur days, months or years down the road. But we know in the next 50 years it’s 1 out of 2.”

The Wasatch fault runs 240 miles from southern Idaho to central Utah. The most threatening part of the fault line is between Brigham City and Nephi. Scientists are predicting a quake of 6.75 magnitude or greater. In that scenario they say there would be 2,500 fatalities, 9,300 life threatening injuries, 84,000 families displaced from their homes and total short term economic losses of $33 billion. Just in the state of Utah alone.

FEMA has a massive emergency plan in place when the “big one” hits here. “We literally thousands of people ready to come here and help us, but that could take a week or more.”They would not be ready at the instant because they aren’t ready to leave on a moment’s notice, but because they couldn’t get here.  Roads could be impassable and airports out of service. Hospitals may or may not be operating, but you might have trouble getting to them.

And don’t expect to see your local police officer or firefighter to be there.

Sean Mcgowan, Earthquake Program Manager at FEMA explains “we anticipate a lot of first responders locally would themselves be impacted. So, in addition to being firefighters and police officers, they’re also husbands and fathers and wives and daughters. They would have their own families to take care of.”

The official FEMA being prepared list goes on to include.


  1. React Safely. Learn what to do during an earthquake, Talk to the family about having a safe point.
  2. Take Cover. In each room of your home, identify the safest places to “drop, cover, and hold on” during an earthquake.
  3. Survive on Your Own.
  4. Stay in Contact.
  5. Care for People, Pets, and Property.