Skip to main content

Cottonwood Heights Journal

How Cottonwood Heights is preparing for Utah’s earthquake risks

Jun 03, 2024 01:31PM ● By Megan McKellar

A green ribbon hangs from a resident’s door in Cottonwood Heights, indicating no medical situation. (Photo courtesy of Paul Brenneman)

Ninety percent of Utah's population lives in active earthquake zones. Serious earthquakes have occurred in the past in Utah, and based on geologic evidence, even greater ones are likely to happen in the future. Such earthquakes are most likely in a "seismic belt" about 100 miles wide extending north to south along the Wasatch Front and through Richfield to Cedar City and St. George, according to The Great Utah Shake Out website.

To prepare the community for an emergency situation, Cottonwood Heights held an annual city “Shake Out” on April 20.

Cottonwood Heights residents were instructed to place either a green, yellow, red or black ribbon  —or an object in that color—in a visible place outside their home before 9 a.m.: green for no medical situations, yellow for non-life-threatening medical issue, red for a life-threatening situation, and black for a death in the home. It was also recommended that residents should also create and review a personal or family emergency plan as part of the drill.

Block captains collected information from the street beginning at 9 a.m. The data was then transferred to the emergency operations center at City Hall by the Cottonwood Heights Amateur Radio Club, a volunteer group that handles the city’s radio disaster communications.

According to Paul Brenneman, assistant chief and emergency manager of the Cottonwood Heights Police Department, the goal of this year’s Shake Out was to practice three components: community involvement in collecting information, equipment and personnel’s ability to collect and transfer the information to the Emergency Operations Center (EOC), and the deployment of city and volunteer resources setting up the city EOC and receiving the collected data. The city’s emergency response is prioritized based on this data.

 While the results of this year’s event are still being collected and evaluated, initial data indicates “a great turn out,” Brenneman said.

Utah averages a magnitude 6.0 earthquake once every 15 to 20 years. According to The Great Utah Shake Out website, some Utah residents are discounting the earthquake hazard since moderate to large earthquakes have been nearly absent since pioneer settlement in 1847, especially along the Wasatch Front. The likelihood of the Wasatch Front region experiencing a magnitude 6.0 or greater earthquake within the next 50 years is 57%, with a 43% probability of a magnitude 6.75 or greater earthquake occurring, as per information provided by

“Over the years, we have identified processes and practices that initially we thought were good ideas (that) needed to be reworked, changed or set aside,” Brenneman said. “We have also identified items which enhance our data and improve our abilities and effectiveness. Specifically, we have added a drone program and a rover program which can be deployed to gather critical data. Both enhance our ability to efficiently gather real time intelligence which translates into actionable data.”

A dedicated volunteer staff makes the program possible, who “donate countless hours to make our community a safer, prepared community ready to help out during a large-scale disaster.”

Cottonwood Heights also holds emergency preparedness trainings twice a year. These meetings are available to watch on the city’s website. λ