ISU Bengal Solutions talks economic impact of earthquakes

Potential economic impacts of SE Idaho earthquake

POCATELLO, Idaho (KIFI/KIDK) - Bengal Solutions at Idaho State University is going to further a recent study they did on the economic impacts of a large earthquake in Southeast Idaho. The team presented their research to county commissioners, emergency management officials and Idaho's lieutenant governor back in May.

Now, in light of the recent string of earthquakes in Caribou and Bear Lake counties, the research has become even more applicable and relevant.

In their research, the team focused on the economic aftermath of 6.5 or greater magnitude earthquake in four counties: Bear Lake, Caribou, Franklin and Oneida. 

The research came from the team using statistics from United States Geological Survey and the Hazus report, which is distributed by FEMA.

The potential impact they found was staggering. In total, for the four counties, the total economic loss would be a little more than $277 million. Broken down by county, $81 million would be lose in Caribou County, $98 million in Bear Lake, $82 million in Franklin and $15 million in Oneida. 

"The bulk of it was structural building losses because you have a lot of older construction and buildings that were designed where the code wasn't designed to meet with earthquake standards," said Dan Cravens, director of Bengal Solutions.

For all the counties, historic buildings would likely be a total loss and beyond repair. Since most of those smaller, rural communities have historic downtowns, the downtown areas would be destroyed for most of the counties, according to Cravens.

Other estimates that were looked at in the research show bridges and transportation would be damaged and cost a total for all four counties of around $33 million. Gas lines would be damaged and water lines would be an issue, costing roughly $79.5 million in loss. Around 50 households would be displaced. Estimates also show at least two fatalities. 

And the social impacts would be felt for years to come, Cravens said. Cravens said with homes damaged, several businesses likely shut down and no source of income for some, many people would likely leave the area and not come back, costing even more devastation economically. Cravens said this is exactly what happened in Wells. 

Another part of the team's research looked at the 2008 earthquake that struck Wells, Nevada. Because the town of Wells is similar to the smaller counties in size, population, and structure, Cravens said it helped form some accurate comparisons between Wells and a would-be earthquake in the four counties studied.

The team said it doesn't predict earthquakes and it's not trying to scare people that it's doom-and-gloom. They just want to help communities and community leaders be prepared and know what to expect should disaster strike.

"What we can do is we can be prepared beforehand - how we can actually take the appropriate measures and steps so those losses can be appropriately minimized," said Hassan Afzal, one of the students who is part of the study.

Other students who are a part of it said it's rewarding and educational to be a part of.

"Just doing everything we can to help prepare the communities is fulfilling," said Michael Hunn, another team member.

"It's exciting because I've been a part of this and know what could happen," said Tim Roth, another team member. "It's scary because holy cow, over $200 million worth of damage could happen."

The team said moving forward, its next steps will be to look at each county individually. They will do some cost comparisons for Caribou and Bear Lake counties next. The team will look at what it would cost those counties to fix up some of their older, high-risk buildings now versus the cost it would be to repair and cleanup post-earthquake. They plan to present their research again to county commissioners for those counties as well as emergency management teams. 

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