Dixie State University students duck under tables during Great Utah ShakeOut drill

Students duck for cover under tables in a math classroom at Dixie State University during the Great Utah ShakeOut earthquake drill, St. George, Utah, April 19, 2018 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Thursday’s Great Utah ShakeOut may not have made an “earth-shaking” impact on the Dixie State University campus, but public safety officials hope such drills may one day help save lives in the event of a real earthquake.

Students duck for cover under tables in a math classroom at Dixie State University during the Great Utah ShakeOut earthquake drill, St. George, Utah, April 19, 2018 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News

A few minutes after the scheduled drill, about 10:20 a.m., DSU students and staff members received notifications about the drill in the form of automated voice calls, emails and text messages that said “This is a only a test for the Great ShakeOut. Practice now Drop! Cover! Hold On!”

Many students, but not all, received the alert messages. At a few classrooms inside DSU’s Snow Math and Science building, students dutifully ducked under the tables for a minute or two before crawling back out and resuming their regular classroom activities.

One of the classes in the building apparently didn’t participate because they were taking a test. A number of other students who were seen checking their phones confirmed they did receive the notifications, even though they didn’t actively seek shelter as recommended by the drill.

Dixie State University risk management director Josh Thayn explains campus alert system following Great Utah ShakeOut earthquake drill, St. George, Utah, April 19, 2018 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News

Josh Thayn, the university’s risk management director and fire marshal, said afterward the messages were delivered through a system called CampusAlerts, which enables a variety of customized emergency messages to be sent out across multiple platforms.

“The idea is to reach as many people as possible, as quickly as possible, he said.

“They could have seen it on their phone, in a text, in an email or on their computer screen,” Thayn said. “If they didn’t receive the notifications, they were probably near someone who did.”

“We want to be the source that everybody looks at, the trusted source that they can know they’re getting accurate, timely information from us,” Thayn said, encouraging any DSU students or staff who didn’t receive the alerts to make sure they have updated their contact information with the university’s Emergency Alert System.

“Just like with any training, it’s only as good as you take it seriously,” Thayn said.

Dixie State University students check alert messages on their phones during the Great Utah ShakeOut earthquake drill, St. George, Utah, April 19, 2018 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News

Thursday’s drill was the latest in a series of regular statewide earthquake drills conducted over the past several years. According to the GreatShakeOut website, some 970,000 Utah residents were listed as being part of groups that participated in this month’s drill to some extent. Of those, approximately 24,000 were Washington County residents, including some 9,700 students and staff at Dixie State University.

Thayn said the website is filled with information and helpful resources designed to help people prepare themselves for an earthquake.

“They’ve even done modeling based on Washington County. You can go on there and look at it to give you an idea of how much damage it would cost to our infrastructure, how many lives would be lost, how many injuries and how long it would take to rebuild,” Thayn said. “When you look at it, it’s very significant.”

Message received on a Dixie State University employee’s phone during the Great Utah ShakeOut earthquake drill, St. George, Utah, April 19, 2018 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News

“A 7.1 earthquake would cause a lot of harm and damage to our community. We do have two major faults here, the Washington fault line and the Hurricane fault line, that I believe are both active within the 100-150 year range times.”

“I personally believe it’s not a matter of if, it’s when we will have a significant earthquake here in the county,” Thayn said. “If you want to talk about things that keep you up at night, this is one that does that for me.”

A number of Washington County School District schools also conducted earthquake drills Thursday. Also, Peter Kuhlmann, emergency services director for Washington County, said county personnel conducted an exercise at the Emergency Operations Center involving a simulated earthquake. In addition, some private companies and hospitals also reportedly conducted practice drills in connection with the event.

‘Drop, Cover, and Hold On’

Federal, state and local emergency management experts and other official preparedness organizations agree that “Drop, Cover, and Hold On” is the appropriate action to reduce injury and death during earthquakes. Great ShakeOut earthquake drills provide opportunities for people to practice how to protect themselves during an earthquake.

“You cannot tell from the initial shaking if an earthquake will suddenly become intense, so you should always Drop, Cover, and Hold On immediately,” the website states.

According to the website, in most situations, you will reduce your chance of injury if you:

  • DROP where you are, onto your hands and knees. This position protects you from being knocked down and also allows you to stay low and crawl to shelter if nearby.
  • COVER your head and neck with one arm and hand. If a sturdy table or desk is nearby, crawl underneath it for shelter. If no shelter is nearby, crawl next to an interior wall (away from windows). Stay on your knees and bend over to protect vital organs
  • HOLD ON until the shaking stops. Under shelter: hold on to it with one hand; be ready to move with your shelter if it shifts. No shelter: hold on to your head and neck with both arms and hands.

If there is no table or desk near you, drop to the ground and then if possible move to an inside corner of the room. Be in a crawling position to protect your vital organs and be ready to move if necessary, and cover your head and neck with your hands and arms.

Do not move to another location or outside. Earthquakes occur without any warning and may be so violent that you cannot run or crawl. You are more likely to be injured if you try to move around during strong shaking. Also, you will never know if the initial jolt will turn out to be start of the big one, and that’s why you should always Drop, Cover, and Hold On immediately.

The above guidelines are for the most common situations. To learn how to protect yourself in other situations and locations, click here.

Safety officials also recommend that individuals and families conduct a home hazard hunt (or one at work) to help identify things that can fall over and break or cause injuries during or after an earthquake.

Email: jrichards@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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