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Shaking up the valley: Cache County signs on for April earthquake drill

October 26th, 2011 Posted in Opinion

‘Sometimes people forget Utah is earthquake country. People are always forgetting that it is a real threat.’ ~ Joe Dougherty, Utah Division of Emergency Management

By Allee Evensen

LOGAN — When the clock strikes quarter after 10 on the morning of April 17th, thousands of Cache Valley residents will drop to their knees. When the rumbling starts, they’ll hide under tables, doorways, and desks, clenching their fists and waiting for the shaking to stop.

By 11 o’clock, schools will be back in session, office keyboards will continue to click, and city officials will breathe sighs of relief. After months of planning and preparation, The Great Utah ShakeOut will have trained hundreds of thousands of Utahns for the day when a real earthquake may hit.

Last month, Logan city and Utah State University signed on to participate in the state-wide earthquake drill. Hyde Park and North Logan have also volunteered to participate, and are expected to register in the near future.

“Sometimes people forget Utah is earthquake country,” said Joe Dougherty, public information officer with the Utah Division of Emergency Management. “People are always forgetting that it is a real threat.”

With numerous fault lines across the state including the 240-mile fault line that runs from southern Idaho to central Utah, an earthquake is the largest threat in Utah’s FEMA region. According to Lee Davidson of the Deseret News, an earthquake along the Wastach Front could potentially kill 6,000 people and injure 90,000 people, causing a $40 billion hit to the Utah economy.

The ShakeOut will be the first state-wide earthquake drill in the history of Utah. More than 400,000 families, schools, and hospitals have already registered, nearly 30,000 of those residing in Northern Utah. By the start of April, the Emergency Division hopes the number will jump to 750,000, around one-fourth of the population of the state. Dougherty said in terms of emergency preparedness, something of this magnitude before has never been attempted in Utah. He said it will help residents to review and create emergency plans and use them in real world situations.

“We want (people) to go through the motions and be ready,” he said.

In conjunction with the ShakeOut, Cache County is encouraging residents to watch Facebook, Twitter and the news on April 19 to get a feel for how messages would spread in a natural disaster. County Emergency Manager Rick Williams said the day before the ShakeOut, the county will test its hospital communications, including how and where they would transport patients.

“It’s a good time,” said Williams. “We’re encouraging people to check their emergency preparedness standards.”

Eleven central U.S. states currently participate in ShakeOuts, and many others run smaller versions of earthquake drills, said Dougherty. According to the California Earthquake Country Alliance, the original ShakeOut, which was created in California 2008, was designed to simulate an earthquake on Southern California’s San Andreas Fault. The initial ShakeOut had 5.4 million participants in eight counties. Since then, the drill has spread to all 58 counties in California, as well as Canada, Guam and New Zealand. Last week, the 4th Annual California ShakeOut had more than 8 million participants who ducked and covered, setting a record for the world’s largest earthquake drill.

Dougherty said earthquakes present a unique challenge in preparedness, because there are no obvious signs like in a hurricane or tornado. This is the reason Utah communities, families, schools and businesses need to have emergency plans in place, he said.

“Earthquakes strike without warning,” he said. “They can happen anytime.”


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