Train your brain: a lesson in earthquake safety


The ground shakes. The grocery store shelves bounce and wave. Canned goods fly off the shelves toward unprepared shoppers, dropping to the ground like dead weights, landing on feet, bruising heads. Crowds run from the store, screaming in panic toward a door of exploding glass.

All of this could happen at any time. Knowing what to do in an earthquake may separate those who make it through relatively unscathed and those who don’t.

Maralin Hoff, dubbed the “earthquake lady” for her enthusiasm for emergency preparedness, said being ready for earthquakes is a way of life. She shares her enthusiasm as she travels the state of Utah teaching residents how to be safe.

Hoff explained the proper procedure for safety during an earthquake has three steps: drop, cover and hold. This means drop to the ground, cover your head under a piece of furniture and hold on to that piece of furniture so it doesn’t move.

“During the ground shaking, the (furniture) will dance away from you, so you want to hold on to the legs and cover your head,” Hoff said.

She does not recommend trying to get away.

“Don’t panic and run,” Hoff said. “Gravity will greet you. Instead, stay where you are and take cover.”

According to Hoff, the most important preparation you make is before an earthquake happens. Hoff calls this “train your brain.”

“The more you think about these things, the more you talk about it, the more you will know what to do when the big one hits,” Hoff said. “We don’t worry about stuff like this. We worry about what we’re going to do tonight, or what we’re going to fix for dinner. But the more you plan the more you train your brain for when the real thing happens.”

According the Utah Geological Survey, the Wasatch fault is a series of overlapping faults running from Malad City, Idaho, through Salt Lake City and Provo and down to Fayette. Over the last 6,000 years, the fault has experienced a minimum of 23 large earthquakes, with a big one every 1,300 years on average. The last major earthquake was on the Nephi segment of the fault around 1,400 years ago. Since that time, energy has been building up on several sections of the fault.

Kyle Rollins, a professor of foundational engineering at BYU, said there is a 30 percent probability of a large earthquake on the Wasatch fault in the next 50 years.

“It’s possible we’ll live and die and not have one,” Rollins said. “However, we have to plan so we don’t have tragic consequences like they did in Kobe, Japan.”

Rollins said the recent changes in local infrastructure make Utah county more earthquake secure. Renovation of areas like the Deer Creek Dam and the I-15 corridor have taken into account the possibility for liquefaction.

“When they expanded the roadway, they made it wider and excavated it to get rid of any material that might liquefy in an earthquake,” Rollins said. “The new highway has been designed to withstand an earthquake. Ogden to Spanish Fork should be in pretty good shape.”

Clark Monson, professor of geography and natural hazards at BYU, said he is not overly concerned about a big earthquake happening in Provo in the near future.

“I doubt that there’s a 50 percent chance in the next 20 years that there is going to be an earthquake here,” Monson said. “We just kind of take our chances a little bit. Most of us are willing to tolerate a bit of risk.”

However, Monson cautions against complacency.

“It’s easy when year after year goes by and nothing happens,” Monson said. “It’s easy to get lulled into a feeling of false security, but we always need to have a reasonable level of preparation in case an earthquake does occur. It’s not about whether you survive the earthquake, it’s how you deal with everything afterward.”

Psychology sophomore Ray Norton said she learned the importance of emergency preparedness from her parents while growing up in Cleveland, Ohio.

“My family is kind of obsessed with preparing for end-of-the-world situations, so I have thought a lot about this,” Norton said. “I even have a little bit of food storage saved up.”

Norton said she is optimistic that even if the big one comes, she will be all right.

“Stuff is coming,” Norton said. “There is end-of-the-world stuff coming, but we’ll be OK, it will all work out. We just do what the Apostles and prophets tell us to and we’ll be OK, I think.”

For years, LDS prophets have warned the members of the church to prepare an emergency plan, including a three-month supply of food, a supply of drinking water and personal savings.

Preparedness enthusiast Hoff said she gives her family the gift of preparation for all special occasions, be it chemical toilets for Christmas or collapsible shovels for birthdays.

“You do not know what you will be doing — where you will be — when we get hit with this big one,” Hoff said. “I am not going to let a few seconds destroy what I’ve worked hard for all my life.”


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