An event from recent history gives a great example for us to emulate and shows what can be done if we are serious about being prepared for emergencies.
Large-scale disasters had happened before but they were in the distant past, long before the majority of the population was born. The current generation knew little of real hardship. They had grown up during a time of prosperity and planned their lives for more of the same. Among them was a mayor of a small town that remembered the hard times of his childhood. He also studied history and knew that someday history was bound to repeat itself.
As mayor, he began making plans to protect his town, but his ideas were not always popular. Some people complained that what he wanted to do was a wasteful public works project. Others shook their heads at what they viewed as an old man’s folly. Most believed that since they had done the same as other towns, that they were sufficiently prepared.
However, he persevered and before retiring, the mayor saw his project completed. For 27 years, his legacy stood as an eccentric landmark and an occasional source of jokes.
All of that changed on March 11, 2011, when Japan was hit by a 65-foot tsunami. No defenses proved sufficient to stop the wall of rushing water that destroyed entire cities and took thousands of lives. The financial losses were in billions of dollars. No coastal town was spared. None that is, except for the small town of Fudai with its enormous concrete wall and floodgate. Fudai had weathered the perfect storm while surrounded by devastation on both sides, all because of the vision and determination of one man, Kotoku Wamura.
While sea walls and flood gates are common to the coast of Japan, Wamura wanted Fudai’s to be nearly twice as tall as those built by neighboring towns. He had studied history and learned that long ago, tsunamis much larger than existing structures had hit the coast of Japan. He knew that if it had happened before, it would eventually happen again.
The people of Fudai wanted to thank Kotoku Wamura for saving their lives but all they could do was lay flowers on his grave. He had died 14 years before the tsunami hit.
At his retirement ceremony Wamura gave this advice: “Even if you encounter opposition, have conviction and finish what you start. In the end, people will understand.”
I am a believer in sensible preparation, in being ready for the unforeseen, in doing what’s right in the face of criticism and opposition, and in learning from history and the wise example of others.
A tsunami in Utah County is not likely, but a major earthquake is a very real threat.
In all of 2018, Utah experienced about 300 earthquakes. Halfway through 2019, there have already been more than 1,000 earthquakes in the state. I don’t know what that means for our future, but it is a reminder that the Wasatch Front sits on top of a major fault line. In fact it was an earthquake, or series of them, along the fault line that created the Wasatch Mountains.
What will happen if there is another big earthquake event? Exactly what happens depends on the size of the quake, which is difficult to predict. So, although we can’t predict the magnitude with certainty, we can predict the most affected areas. It just so happens that our most densely populated areas are built on or near the fault line and on an unstable foundation. This means that a significant portion of our population could be displaced from their homes.
It is predictable that many roads and Interstate 15 in particular would be severely damaged, making transportation difficult along the Wasatch Front. This could delay emergency responders to the most heavily impacted areas.
To make matters worse, the majority of our hospitals are also built within the quake zones. A major earthquake could render them useless when we need them the most.
This combination creates a frightening scenario where large numbers of people need help but are difficult to reach and then would not have enough functioning hospitals to meet their needs.
What should we do? First, individuals and families need to be prepared to help themselves and assist neighbors in immediate and short term needs. In this scenario it might be several days before help arrives.
In addition, we ought to consider building some hospitals away from fault lines and liquefaction zones. That way, they have a greater chance of remaining functional after such an event.
In the interest of best response times and access, it is understandable why hospitals would be built in the center of major populations and near freeways. However, when a map of the fault lines and liquefaction zones is combined with a map of hospitals, we can see that we might want to expand upon that strategy and plan for additional medical facility support in areas that are close to urban centers but far enough away to be a viable option in the event of a large-scale disaster.
Eagle Mountain is taking emergency preparation seriously, creating response plans and acquiring resources. Having answers to a major earthquake means much more than meeting the needs of Eagle Mountain residents.
If significant portions of the Wasatch Front are rendered uninhabitable, any surviving medical facilities or shelters will be overwhelmed. Eagle Mountain’s most suitable role, as a partner in the region, would be a response center, ready to support our neighboring cities and provide a safe haven for those that are displaced. For this reason we invite emergency response and medical groups to consider Eagle Mountain and work with us to build, on solid ground, facilities and strategies to meet this very real threat.
The economy is good right now and, overall, people are less focused on emergency preparation. I am asking my fellow Utah County residents to join me in renewing our commitment to emergency preparation, individually and regionally. In the event of a major catastrophe we will need to work together.