One of the best ways to prepare yourself for an emergency is to know what you’re up against. This page will provide you with information about the hazards (threats to life and property) within our community. Knowledge of these hazards will help you to be ready if a disaster strikes. Each hazard has specific steps to help you prepare. See the Emergency Preparedness page for general information and ideas that will help in all types of emergencies.
Salt Lake County Emergency Management regularly monitors potential hazards within its jurisdiction.
Natural hazards are events caused by the natural processes of the earth that pose a threat to life or property. Although the exact time and place of most natural hazards cannot be predicted, they do tend to occur repeatedly in the same geographical areas because they are related to weather patterns or physical characteristics of an area. The following natural hazards are known to threaten the Salt Lake area.
An avalanche is a mass of snow sliding down a mountainside. Avalanches can occur when a large amount of snow accumulates on an existing layer of snow in a short amount of time. The layer underneath may be too weak to hold the additional weight and may fracture, resulting in an avalanche.
Avalanches are somewhat predictable. The risk of avalanche in the Wasatch Range is generally confined to known paths. Weather conditions, the steepness of the slope, and other factors can be monitored to assess the likelihood of an avalanche. Human activity can also contribute to avalanches. Snowmobilers, backcountry skiers, snowboarders, or snowshoers can place additional strain on unstable slopes which triggers avalanches. In 90 percent of avalanche accidents, the victim, or someone in their party, triggers the avalanche.
Avalanches may affect recreation areas, structures, or roads. Consult the Utah Avalanche Center for the most up-to-date avalanche conditions.
An earthquake is caused by a sudden slipping or movement of a portion of the earth’s outer layer, called the crust. This sudden movement occurs along faults or breaks in the earth’s crust along which blocks of earth move when built-up strain is released. The release of tension can cause the ground to shake violently, resulting in damage to buildings, roads, and utility systems over a wide area. Earthquakes can occur at anytime of the day or year with no warning.
Did you know that an earthquake occurs somewhere in Utah almost every week? Most of them are too minor for anyone to feel them. However, much larger earthquakes have occurred in Utah in the past, and will occur again sometime in the future. A major fault zone lies along the Wasatch Mountains, where approximately 80 percent of Utah residents live. If a large-magnitude earthquake were to occur along the Wasatch Fault today, the impacts would be devastating.
Many areas in the Salt Lake Valley may be affected by liquefaction. Liquefaction occurs in sandy soils that are saturated with water. The ground shaking in an earthquake can change the water pressure applied on the soil particles. The soil may lose its strength and no longer be able to support buildings or other structures above them. Ground shaking may also trigger landslides or other slope failures.
For more information about earthquakes in Utah, visit the Utah Geological Survey.
To watch the Utah Geological Survey's Wasatch Fault flyby video, click here. This video describes the geology of the Wasatch Fault, as well as the possible hazards the fault poses for Salt Lake City.
TIPS - Before an Earthquake
1. Prepare your home.
TIPS - During an Earthquake
1. Stay Calm
2. Duck, Cover & Hold On
TIPS - After an Earthquake
1. Check yourself and others for injuries. Provide first aid to anyone who needs it.
2. Check gas, electric, and water lines for damage.
3. Listen to the radio for news. Avoid using the phone unless it’s an emergency.
4. Stay out of damaged buildings.
5. Be prepared for aftershocks.
Floods are one of the most common hazards in the United States. However, not all floods are alike. The size can greatly vary, affecting only a small neighborhood or multiple states. Some floods rise slowly over several days due to heavy rain, rapid snow melt, etc. On the other hand, flash floods can develop in just a few minutes without any local visible signs of rain. These swift, powerful floods can carry boulders and other debris and can sweep away most things in their path. Though they may appear harmless, even small streams and gullies can flood. Flooding can also be caused by shallow ground water or from dam failures.
Despite Utah’s semi-arid climate, we are still subject to flooding from rapid snowmelt, cloudbursts, or other causes. In 1983, the runoff created by a sudden warming trend combined with record mountain snowpack exceeded the capacities of streams and storm sewers. Flood waters were diverted onto city streets. Numerous steps have been taken since the 1983/1984 floods in Utah to prevent future flood events in our community. However, citizens and responders must remain vigilant for future unexpected events.
1. FEMA manages the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) which produces Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) showing areas where flooding is most likely to occur.
2. Water is extremely powerful!
3. If your community is being threatened by a flood, listen to the radio for information. You may be advised to evacuate. If there is any possibility of a flash flood, move immediately to higher ground.
4. Avoid contact with floodwaters. They may be contaminated by oil, gasoline, or sewage. Water may also be electrically charged from underground or downed power lines.
5. Use caution when returning to areas that have been flooded. Floods may weaken buildings or roadways.
Historical outbreaks of infectious disease throughout the world attest to our continuing vulnerability. Social changes may contribute to an increase in the risk of new or re-emerging diseases. Mass population movements, rural-to-urban migration and accelerated urbanization, population growth, rapid transport, global trade, new food technologies, and new life styles have resulted in contact between more people at faster rates than at any other time in history. In suitable circumstances, an infection can span entire continents within days or weeks, as influenza periodically demonstrates.
It may take several days for the symptoms of an illness to develop. As a result, the disease may have spread to a large number of people before an epidemic is recognized.
1. Constantly practice good health and hygiene habits. Those in poor health at the time an epidemic breaks out may be more susceptible to the illness.
2. Frequently check for official news and information including signs and symptoms of the disease, areas in danger, if medications or vaccinations are being distributed, and where to seek medical attention if you become ill.
Landslides are masses of rock, earth, or debris moving down a slope. These slides may damage homes, roadways, or other developments in their path. They may be small or large, and may move slowly or very fast.
There are many possible causes of landslides. Heavy storms may saturate the soil and slopes may slump as a result. The shaking of earthquakes may cause rocks or other material to fall. Wildfires eliminate vegetation that otherwise holds soils in place. Human developments may create unstable slopes that eventually slide. A combination of these factors may increase the likelihood of a landslide.
Debris and mud flows are rivers of rock, earth, and other material saturated with water. Heavy rainfall or rapid snowmelt may cause water to rapidly accumulate in the ground, creating a flowing river of mud. They can flow at high speeds, striking with little or no warning, and can travel several miles from their source, growing in size as they pick up trees, boulders, and other materials.
1. Avoid building near steep slopes, close to mountain edges, near drainage ways, or natural erosion valleys.
2. Learn to recognize these warning signs: (Be particularly attentive to signs of slope instability during or after heavy storms or earthquakes, and up to a year after a wildfire.)
Most Utah residents are accustomed to snowy winter storms; however, occasionally these storms are more severe and may pose a threat to your safety. Storms may produce white-out conditions or deposit large accumulations of snow that lead to hazardous driving conditions. Stores may close or roads may become impassable, and you may not be able to get basic, essential supplies. Some storms may result in downed power lines, leaving residents subject to extreme cold. The elderly and very young children are particularly susceptible to the cold. Avalanches may also be a concern during severe storms.
1. If possible, stay home to avoid hazardous driving conditions. Have a supply of basic items such as food and water stored so you will not need to leave your home.
2. If the power goes out, be prepared with a flashlight and extra batteries, a battery powered radio, and an emergency heating source. Be sure to ventilate properly and use fire safeguards when using emergency heaters.
2. Dress for the weather:
3. Avoid overexertion when shoveling snow. Overexertion can bring on a heart attack.
4. If you are in the cold for long periods of time, watch for signs of frostbite or hypothermia. Seek medical attention if necessary.
5. If you are stranded in your car during a storm:
Every thunderstorm produces lightning. An average of 300 people are injured and 80 people are killed in the United States each year by lightning. In Utah, lightning has claimed the lives of 60 people since 1950, more than any other thunderstorm related hazard. Lightning often strikes as far as 10 miles away from any rainfall. Most lightning injuries occur when people are caught outdoors in the summer months during the afternoon and evening.
Thunderstorms can also produce strong winds, hail, flash flooding, and/or tornados. On average, 140 people are killed in our country by flash floods annually.
1. If you can hear thunder, you are close enough to the storm to be struck by lightning. Take the following precautions:
2. Avoid showering or bathing during a thunderstorm.
3. Use a corded telephone only for emergencies. Cordless and cellular phones are safe to use.
4. Turn off electrical items such as computers. Power surges from lightning can cause serious damage.
5. If you feel your hair stand on end, it may be an indication that lightning is about to strike.
Many residents in the Salt Lake Valley live in what is known as the Wildland/Urban Interface (WUI). The WUI is the area where structures and other human developments meet or intermingle with undeveloped wildland or vegetated areas. Each year, many homes across the United States have been lost to WUI fires. There are several causes of wildland fires with the most common being lightening and human activities.
These are hazards that result from human activity or human developments, including both accidental and intentional actions. The number of technological incidents is escalating as a result of the increased number of new substances and opportunities for human error in the use of these materials. Technological advances coupled with ongoing international political unrest pose an increased risk to national security. Both accidental and intentional man-made hazards are unpredictable, but steps can be taken to help prevent and prepare for these hazards.
Although dam failures are rare, they do happen. At 12:30 a.m. on January 1, 1989 nearly 1,500 people were evacuated near St. George, Utah, due to a breach in a dike at the Quail Creek Reservoir. Though no injuries were reported, homes and other property were damaged by the wall of water that rushed through the community.
There are more than 200 dams within Salt Lake County, and 27 pose a “high” or significant hazard to life and property if failure occurs.
The Utah Division of Water Rights conducts regular inspections of all dams that potentially pose a threat to human populations. Inspectors make recommendations to dam owners to maintain the strength and security of the dam and then monitor their compliance. Dam owners are also required to have an Emergency Action Plan in place.
1. If a dam failure threatens your home, you will likely be notified to evacuate. Have an emergency supplies kit that is easily accessible and follow evacuation instructions given by emergency officials.
2. If told do evacuate, do so as quickly as possible. You might not have much time to get to safety.
See the Preparedness page for more information on emergency supply kits.
Fires spread quickly; there is no time to gather valuables or make a phone call. A fire can become life threatening in just two minutes. In five minutes, an entire home can be engulfed in flames. Heat and smoke can be more dangerous than the flames. Inhaling super-hot air can sear your lungs. Smoke may contain poisonous gases that can make you disoriented or drowsy.
Before a fire:
1. Install smoke alarms on each level of your home, particularly near bedroom areas, at the top of open stairways or the bottom of enclosed stairways, and near (but not in) the kitchen.
2. Install A-B-C type fire extinguishers in your residence and teach family members how to use them.
3. Plan two escape routes from each room in your home and review routes with your family.
4. Use caution when using alternative heating sources, candles, or other sources of heat or open flame.
5. Examine outlets and electrical plugs.
6. Store flammable liquids in approved containers in well-ventilated storage areas.
7. Keep matches and lighters up high, away from children, and, if possible, in a locked cabinet.
During a fire:
1. Leave the building immediately. Do not reenter a burning building.
2. If your clothes catch fire, stop, drop, and roll until the fire is extinguished.
3. When escaping from a fire, stay low and check closed doors for heat before you open them.
The Salt Lake County Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) collects information about sites within the county that store hazardous materials and makes this information available upon request. The LEPC has also developed a plan to prepare for and respond to hazardous material emergencies in the community.
1. If asked to evacuate, do so immediately.
2. Stay upstream, uphill, and upwind from a chemical release.
3. If asked to shelter-in-place:
For more information, visit the LEPC/HazMat page or click here
There may be chemicals that are potentially harmful within your home. Cleaning, automotive, lawn and garden products, as well as indoor pesticides, workshop and painting supplies, propane tanks and other fuels are some of the items common in households that may be dangerous.
*For a list of hazardous household materials and how to properly dispose of them, click here.
1. Take the necessary steps to ensure that you are using, storing, and disposing of the material according to the manufacturer’s directions.
2. Buy only as much of a chemical as you will use. Leftovers can be shared with neighbors or donated to businesses, charities, or government agencies.
3. Keep products in original containers and clearly labeled.
4. Never mix hazardous household chemicals with other products. Some may be incompatible and react (such as ammonia and bleach), ignite, or explode.
5. Do not store household chemicals where children can access them.
Increasing usage, reliance on, and volume of data moved by telecommunications systems greatly increases the impact of a disruption. Types of failures include software failure due to program malfunctions, virus infiltration, sabotage, or hardware failure caused by physical destruction. System disruption is a major economic threat. Business and industry increasingly depend on electronic access to data and rely on computers to manage complex operating systems.
Any telecommunications failure includes:
Telecommunications hardware is not only subject to physical threats such as flood and fire, but many electronic threats. Lightning can damage telecommunications equipment either through conduction of its direct current or an induced current from coupling or electromagnetic radiation, typically delivered through power lines. There are other sources of electromagnetic radiation such as radar, radio and television broadcast antennas, motors, generators, arc welders, nuclear bursts and even other computers.
Mobile telephones greatly increase communication abilities. They rely on towers to enter the land line system. These towers can handle high volumes of traffic. A serious shortcoming is the lack of overlapping coverage area(s) should power or technical failure, storm damage, equipment sabotage, etc. disrupt tower operation. Saturated mobile telephone networks often occur during disasters preventing callers from using their mobile telephones.
1. Have a family communications plan.
2. Have a system to back-up critical personal or business information.
3. Consider battery back-up power for business equipment to prevent data loss.
Terrorism is the use of force or violence against persons or property in violation of the criminal laws of the United States for purposes of intimidation, coercion, or ransom.
Terrorists often use threats to create fear among the public to try to convince citizens that their government is powerless to prevent terrorism, and to get immediate publicity for their causes. They often choose targets that offer little danger to themselves and areas with relatively easy public access. Foreign terrorists look for visible targets where they can avoid detection such as international airports, large cities, major international events, resorts, and high-profile landmarks.
A terrorist attack can take several forms, depending on the technology available to the terrorist, the nature of the issue motivating the attack, and the terrorist’s target. Possible methods include bombings, chemical or biological agents, or attacks on critical facilities such as transportation facilities, utilities, or other public services. The effects of terrorism can vary significantly from loss of life and injuries to property damage and disruption in services such as electricity, water supply, transportation, and communications.
Before an attack:
1. Be aware of your surroundings.
2. Be prepared to do without services you normally depend on – electricity, telephone, natural gas, gasoline pumps, cash registers, ATMs, and Internet. Have an emergency supplies kit in case basic services are unavailable.
After an attack
1. Stay calm!
2. If you become trapped:
Biological and Chemical Weapons:
Biological agents are infectious microbes or toxins used to produce illness or death in people, animals, or plants. They can be dispersed as aerosols or airborne particles. Terrorists may use biological agents to contaminate food or water because they are extremely difficult to detect.
Chemical agents incapacitate or kill people, destroy livestock, or ravage crops. Some chemical agents are odorless, tasteless, and difficult to detect. They can have an immediate effect (a few seconds to a few minutes) or a delayed effect (several hours to several days).
Utah communities are better prepared than most other states for these hazards thanks to the resources provided by the now-completed Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program at the Deseret Chemical Deport in Toorle County.
1. Public health officials may not immediately be able to provide information on what you should do after a biological attack. It will take time to determine what the illness is and how it should be treated. Check frequently for official news and information including signs and symptoms of the disease, areas in danger, if medications or vaccinations are being distributed, and where to seek medical attention if you become ill.
2. Follow decontamination procedures recommended by emergency personnel to prevent the spread of harmful materials.
Temporary or long-term utility outages/shortages can cause massive disruptions in the operations of essential services. Many critical facilities have emergency standby power supplies; however, they are designed for short-term events and are subject to failure as well.
The electrical power grid can fail due to storm damage, sabotage, or system overloading. After severe weather, restoration efforts cannot start until roads are cleared and service personnel report to work. Electrical power outages pose a particular hazard to individuals with special home health needs and vulnerable populations, particularly under extreme weather conditions.
1. Have a battery-powered radio and flashlights in case of power outages with spare batteries.
2. Cold weather: Have an emergency heating supply. Use proper ventilation for fuel powered heaters and use proper fire hazard precautions.
3. Hot weather: During extreme heat, avoid strenuous work, stay in the shade, and drink plenty of water.