(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) State Capitol workers evacuate the buildings on Capitol Hill, and wait outside with their emergency back packs, during the annual Great Utah ShakeOut earthquake drill, Thursday, April 18, 2019.
When the big earthquake strikes Utah, most people know they should drop, cover and hold on. But after the ground stops moving, the next question can seem a little more daunting: What happens now?
After more than 130 minor earthquakes hit the area near Bluffdale in February, it’s a question that may hit closer to home for some residents in Salt Lake County. But as experts stressed emergency preparedness Thursday in conjunction with the 8th Great Utah ShakeOut — a drill mimicking a magnitude 7 earthquake along the Wasatch fault — they worry that’s a question people are not prepared to answer.
“When you look at how many responders we have versus how many people are going to be displaced — because we’re looking at 350,000 people displaced valleywide — there just aren’t enough responders to go around,” said John Flynt, Salt Lake City’s community preparedness coordinator.
That means people won’t be able to rely solely on emergency officials. And Flynt, the mastermind behind the SAFE Neighborhoods program, has a solution for that.
The disaster-preparedness initiative, which stands for Schools Aid Families in Emergencies, is centered around the philosophy that communities will need to help one another in case of an emergency. Under the program, each person in Salt Lake County should grab a prepared emergency kit after an earthquake and head to the nearest public elementary school, which will act as a hub for services.
All 147 elementary schools in Salt Lake County have a kit with basic organization materials and leadership job sheets for residents to use while managing their hubs, but each will likely operate differently. Some neighborhoods may have to use the school as a temporary shelter if their homes are unsafe, while others will use the school as an area for household reunification, information gathering and service coordination.
“This whole program was designed to bridge that gap between when the ground stops shaking and responders get there,” Flynt said. “The whole philosophy is sort of neighbor helping neighbor.”
In conjunction with the neighborhood program, he also recommends people create a 96-hour emergency kit. It could take at least that long before they would receive assistance from emergency respondents, he said, and the residents would need to be self-sufficient.
BASIC ITEMS NEEDED FOR AN EMERGENCY KIT: • Water (one gallon per person per day) or a water filtration system. • Food (dehydrated or freeze-dried foods are recommended). • Daily medications (such as insulin). • First aid kit. • Hygiene items (like hand soap and toothpaste). • Weather-appropriate clothes for multiple seasons. • Multi-tool or tool kit. • Flashlight. • Radio.
While Flynt recognized that may seem intimidating, he encouraged residents to work on building their kit slowly rather than all at once, adding an item or two each month.
More than a million people participated in the Great ShakeOut on Thursday, including more than 600,000 K-12 students and employees at the state Capitol campus, according to a news release from the Utah Division of Emergency Management. The annual drill is meant to keep Utahns prepared for a major quake, which generally occurs about every 350 to 400 years.
Since pioneers settled Utah in 1847, the state’s largest earthquake was in 1934, when a 6.6 magnitude quake shook an area north of the Great Salt Lake. In 1901, an earthquake occurred near Richfield with an estimated magnitude of 6.5, according to information from the University of Utah.
“We get anywhere from 700 to 800 small earthquakes in the state a year, but the frequency and the number we’ve had in just the last few months has been an inordinate number for the valley,” Flynt said. And while that doesn’t necessarily mean the big one is imminent, he said, it doesn’t decrease the chances either — and it’s best to be prepared before the ground starts to shake.
Though the official Utah ShakeOut Day of Action was Thursday, interested parties can register to hold their ShakeOut drill on any day of the year at http://ShakeOut.org/Utah.