Great Utah ShakeOut prompts 1 million people to participate in earthquake drills across the state

ST. GEORGE — Thousands participated in earthquake preparedness drills across Utah Thursday as part of the “Great Utah ShakeOut,” in hopes of preparing residents and agencies for one of the area’s top threats.

The Great Utah ShakeOut is part of a global effort to prepare agencies and individuals for earthquakes. Over 2.6 million are already registered to participate this year worldwide, over a million of which are in Utah alone. In Washington County, 47,004 residents participated, according to shakeout.gov.

“The thing about Utahns is that they’re great participants. Last year we had close to a million people sign up,” said Steve Ikuta, emergency management program manager for the Intermountain Healthcare’s Southwest Region.

According to the site, 90 percent of Utah residents live in active earthquake zones, making it important to practice three actions to help prevent injury or death in the event of an earthquake:

  • Drop: Get down on your hands and knees. This keeps you from being knocked down and allows you to crawl to safety.
  • Cover: Use one arm and hand to cover your head. Crawl under a table or desk if possible, or next to a an interior wall with no windows. Stay on your knees and bend over to protect vital organs.
  • Hold on: Grab onto something and hold on until the shaking stops. It’s best to hold on to the desk or table that you are under so that you can move with it if it shifts. If there is nothing to hold onto, hold onto your head and neck with both arms.

During Thursday’s drill, participants were encouraged to practice this as if there was a real earthquake.

Not only did groups such as schools, businesses and nonprofits participate, but government and emergency agencies in Washington County gathered at the Emergency Management Center in the basement of the Washington County Administration Building to set up a Joint Information Center and practice responding to a simulated earthquake.

Responders practice emergency response at the Joint Information Center during the Great Utah ShakeOut, St. George, Utah, April 18, 2019 | Photo by Mikayla Shoup, St. George News

Agencies including police departments, firefighters, the Public Health Department, Dixie Regional Medical Center, radio operators, Team Rubicon and other emergency services departments were represented.

This year’s drill scenario was that a 6.0 magnitude earthquake happened in Pine Valley. From there, they had to deal with issues including rockslides, damaged bridges and roadways, damage to critical infrastructures and homes, and first responders having difficulty accessing the damaged areas.

The scenario was planned out so that the team would receive calls reporting things such as damages and blocked roadways, and had to respond to media requests and communicate with the public as if it were a real emergency.

Several people were responsible for answering these calls, documenting the situation, and taking it to someone assigned to one of 15 Emergency Support Function Annexes. These ESFs are a FEMA designed support structure, and each annex is made up of one or more individuals representing agencies that specialize in the annex’s primary function, according to FEMA.

“In the Joint Information Center, we all wear two hats. We wear our agency hat that we represent, we also wear the hat the county gives us to help the Joint Information Center function,” said Terri Draper, DRMC communications director, who was responsible for communicating to the public through press releases and social media during the drill.

The 15 ESF annexes are transportation, communications, public works and engineering, firefighting, information and planning, mass care, emergency assistance, temporary housing and human services, logistics, public health and medical services, search and rescue, oil and hazardous materials response, agriculture and natural resources, energy, public safety and security, and external affairs.

Once it is given to the proper annex, responders can be dispatched and resource requests granted based on how high priority they are.

St. George Police officer Tiffany Atkin briefs local public information officers at the Joint Information Center during the Great Utah ShakeOut, St. George, Utah, April 18, 2019 | Photo by Mikayla Shoup, St. George News

The agencies have practiced operating the Joint Information Center every year since 2012.

“When we do this every year we create that muscle memory of what to do. … Because what we learn today is what we’re going to bring back if the incident were to happen six months down the road or ten years down the road,” Ikuta said.

The nongovernment agency, Team Rubicon, was in attendance for the first time. The nonprofit emergency response organization provides resources and volunteers to areas affected by natural disasters and humanitarian crises around the world. In an earthquake scenario, the organization could provide volunteer management and help clear roads and access to homes.

“The biggest thing is everybody sharing information with one another, it’s very important. Sometimes that gets lost if you don’t have these drills or organize who, how and when. It’s good to be part of it,” Craig Denbow, Team Rubicon city and state planner said.

Information on how to stay safe in an earthquake, how to prepare a 72-hour kit, earthquake guides, audio and video broadcasts, statistics and other resources are available online at shakeout.org.

Email: mshoup@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews | @MikaylaShoup

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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