Top 3 Natural Disaster Threats In Utah And How Municipalities Should Plan For Them

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A primer on why cities, towns, and counties need emergency preparedness plans.

Murphy’s Law says that everything that can go wrong, will go wrong (and usually at the worst possible time). 

It may not be the best attitude for living a happy life, but when it comes to emergency preparedness planning, the principle is spot on. 

In Utah, all cities and towns are required by state law to maintain an emergency operations plan. Municipalities have the option to either draft their own plan or adopt the plan in use by the county in which they are located (UCA §53-2a-1403). 

These emergency preparedness plans aim to guide communities when nature picks a fight with us, or in the event terrorists make their way into the Rockies, or heaven forbid we spill a bunch of dangerous chemicals (because that’s not ever happened before…). And if you procrastinate emergency planning until an emergency happens…well, let’s just say that is poor planning and you stand a strong chance of not getting reelected.

There’s a plethora of good reasons for making sure that local governments are prepared and know what to do in the event of an emergency because when emergencies happen, local government employees are the first to respond. 

Top 3 Natural Disaster Threats In Utah

The most recent edition of Utah’s State Hazard Mitigation Plan (2019) lists the following as the top natural disaster possibilities that threaten the state as a whole:

  1. Wildfires
  2. Flooding
  3. Earthquakes

If you watch the news, this list shouldn’t be surprising (though with the recent droughts, some flooding might not actually be such a tragedy).

The main caveat here is that each community in Utah is different, and each has slightly different vulnerabilities. For example, St. George doesn’t have to worry about avalanches, and Salt Lake City will never see a tornado (…oh wait…). In order to evaluate potential disasters and hazards that could potentially affect your community, it is imperative that your community conduct its own risk assessment and plan accordingly. 

Human-caused Emergencies

Environmental hazards (floods, tornadoes, droughts, etc.) are a big deal and are typically what first come to the minds of many when emergency planning is mentioned, but they aren’t the only threat to the wellbeing of communities. Technological accidents (i.e. toxic chemical releases, nuclear power plant accidents, etc.) and deliberate threats (terrorism, sabotoge, shootings, etc.) are also real threats that should be planned for.

Socioeconomic and demographic forces like a shifting or recessed economy, population “brain drain,” and increases in crime can also threaten communities. These disasters are less dramatic and occur more slowly, but their long-run effects are no less devastating. 

How To Make A Community Emergency Preparedness Plan

Local elected officials have a responsibility to do what they can to mitigate future threats to their communities of all sorts and prepare to bounce back from disasters when they occur. The keystone of fulfilling this responsibility is the municipality’s emergency preparedness plan. 

A full walkthrough of everything you need to make an emergency preparedness plan that’s compliant with Utah law can be accessed via our free civiclinQ training module. Check it out!

Here are seven steps you can take to make sure your city or town is ready for the future:

  1. Make sure you have a plan. If you don’t, you should see that the county’s plan is adopted at the next City Council meeting. Then you should call us and find out what grant resources are available for developing a plan of your own.
  2. Read the plan. Even if you have your own, you should also read the county’s plan. This helps to ensure there is continuity when it counts. Look for what works and also what doesn’t work and plan to adjust accordingly in your own plan.
  3. Identify the key threats you want your plan to focus on. What emergencies are the highest priority for mitigation in your community?
  4. Assess the need to update (or create) the plan with the Council. Don’t forget to go through the public process as needed.
  5. Hire an experienced consultant to draft the plan. If you don’t have the time to write a full plan, don’t add things to your overflowing to-do list.
  6. Revise and adopt the drafted plan. Again, go through the public process.
  7. Make sure a simplified version of the plan you do have is posted on your website so both you and the public can find it easily. Keep in mind though that the public doesn’t need to see the nitty gritty details that could potentially be detrimental to your community if the information found its way into the hands of a terrorist.

Thinking About The Future Can Be Scary…

…But it’s not nearly so bad when you’re working with a planner who has cutting-edge data and years of experience working with Utah cities and towns.

Call Rural Community Consultants today to get expert planning, economic, and ordinance advice to make your community the best it can be. 

Want To Learn More?

Check out our online training modules! Note: Rural Community Consultants is able to provide access to specific training modules free of charge, courtesy of the Utah Office of the Property Rights Ombudsman.

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