“Utah experiences over 800 earthquakes a year, but most of them we don’t feel,” said Joe Dougherty of the Utah Division of Emergency Services.
The Wasatch Front – the big concern
The bulk of Shake Out activities will be focused on the Wasatch Front due to its being the state’s densest population center. While general participants practice “drop, cover, and hold on,” officials with various organizations will he running scenarios and drills focused on the devastation left in the wake of a 7.0 earthquake.
“Utah is quake-country,” Daugherty said, and added if a 7.0 earthquake were ever to hit the Salt Lake City area, it is estimated there would be 2300 instant fatalities. It is projected there could also be between 3,500 and 4,400 severe injuries, 97,700 displaced households, and up to $35 billion in property damage.
There is more than injury and property damage left in the wake of an earthquake, however. What will the conditions of the roads be? What about communications? Will emergency responders be able to get to survivors in a timely manner? Will damaged buildings housing hazardous materials be compromised and trigger a health risk?
These are questions Dougherty said the Shake Out is meant to address so that state, county and municipal entities can assess the situation and better prepare for the future.
“We’re always looking for ways to improve (emergency management),” he said.
The Utah Division of Emergency Services, along with other state agencies, will be conducting drills addressing various earthquake scenarios for two-and-a-half days following April 17.
“We’re going into disaster mode,” Dougherty said. “The practice provides improvement.”
The Shake Out and Washington County
As of April 11, over 31,000 people have visited The Great Utah Shake Out website and registered for the statewide drill.
Washington County participants include agencies on the state, county, and municipal level, the Washington County School District, Intermountain Healthcare medical facilities, Dixie State College, as well as various businesses, churches, individuals and families.
The entire list of participants can be found here.
In St. George, Administrative Capt. Jason Whipple of the St. George Fire Department said “every department in the city has the Shake Out info.”
Whipple said drills run by city entities would include evacuation drills and building assessments (determining whether or not a building was safe after the earthquake). Other scenarios would also be considered.
“Expect dams to break and landslides to occur (during an earthquake),” Dougherty said, providing an example of possible scenarios to be addressed by emergency responders throughout the state.
The city will also be working with county officials on emergency communications.
“You can plan for floods and storms, but earthquakes – you never know where they’re going to hit,” Whipple said. “The problem with emergency management is that they don’t have all the answers.”
Steve Ikuta, the emergency management coordinator for Intermountain Healthcare’s southwest region, said Dixie Regional Medical Center and accompanying facilities throughout the county would be participating in the Shake Out.
“We’re planning for a 7.0 earthquake,” Ikuta said. Like the Utah DES, Intermountain Healthcare facilities will hold drills over a multi-day period.
Drills to be conducted at DRMC include “drop, cover, and hold on,” evacuation, structure damage assessment, power and water loss, triage, establishing care and normality in the aftermath of an earthquake, and more.
A communications exercise involving satellite phones, ham radios, social media and other avenues of communication will also be coordinated.
During the drills, volunteers posing as patients will be seen to by medical staff. “No real patients will be involved,” Ikuta said.
Preparation and Participation
As public agencies conduct their own exercises, Ikuta recommended individuals and families prepare at home as well.
Dougherty said, “People preparing at the home, family, and business level is so important.”
Emergency responders would not be able to reach everyone right after an earthquake, Dougherty said. Survivors would need to have an emergency plan in place until help arrived.
“The best preparation we have is the individual being prepared,” Whipple added.
Ikuta, Dougherty and Whipple encourage everyone to register at The Great Utah Shake Out website so they can join the growing number of participants and get additional information.
“It’s not too late to sign up,” Ikuta said.
The Great Utah Shake Out is in its first year in Utah. The Shake Out program originally started in California in 2008 and has since been adopted by other states, Canadian provinces, and New Zealand.
So far 29 percent of Utah’s population has signed up on the Shake Out webpage, Dougherty said. The percentage is higher than any other state for its first year.
“Utah has the highest level of participants,” Dougherty said. “We’re happy with the participation…I think we have an earthquake-prepared, earthquake-minded state.”