ShakeOut returning to the U’s campus

Your phone vibrates and you look and see a text telling you to drop, cover and hold for one minute. In a normal earthquake, that vibration will be felt beneath your feet without an electronic reminder to duck and cover under your desk.

On April 17, the U will send this text to all students, faculty and staff, inviting them to join the state for the second annual Great Utah ShakeOut. Last year was Utah’s first ShakeOut, and the U participated by evacuating buildings and meeting at the assembly points.

Marty Shaub, managing director for environment health safety and emergency management at the U, said the local government was pleasantly surprised to see the U taking part.

“We evacuated over 250 buildings all at once,” Shaub said. “It was the first time something like that had ever happened at the U.”

Shaub is hopeful participation will increase this year.

Last year, she estimates they had more than 11,000 participants, based on the number of giveaway bags distributed at each of the gathering points. She’s preparing for 15,000 in April.

Utah is known for its mountains, but the mountains exist because we live on a fault line. Below the Wasatch Mountains is a fault line upon which the majority of Utahns live, said Kristine Pankow, associate director of the U seismograph stations.

Looking at this fault historically shows a 7-magnitude earthquake every few hundred years, but there are also some risks of 5.5 to 6.5-magnitude all along the I-15 corridor.

“It’s a when, not an if,” Pankow said.

The ShakeOut is in place to help prepare and remind the community what to do if an earthquake hits. People like Shaub and Pankow want the public to think about their preparedness, which includes many elements.

For starters, emergency management will continue to highlight actions to take when an earthquake hits because of the constant turnover each year at the U. Once evacuated, potential issues include how to contact family members, where to get water and food and where to go for medical assistance. That is why emergency management is looking to set up a medical triage by Rice-Eccles Stadium, Shaub said.

Also, they are planning where a convenient area would be for everyone to gather and reunite. The stadium has the highest likelihood because of its many restrooms, plumbing and administrative features for providing food and water. Different systems of accounting for people are being tested this year.

Even though no building is entirely earthquake proof, Shaub said the U’s buildings have come a long way in a short time in becoming more earthquake safe. She is more concerned about what humans do with the buildings, like making sure exits are clear of any possible falling obstructions.

At each of the nine assembly areas around campus there will be kits filled with toothbrushes, toothpaste and water bottles provided by funds from the President’s Office to remind people to make their own 72-hour kits, Shaub said.

“Living in Utah is a blessing and a curse,” she said. “We don’t get subtle reminders like California’s quakes or annual events like hurricane season. We aren’t jolted on an annual basis, and time quiets nerves.”

The drill takes about 45 minutes in its entirety, and she hopes everyone will take it seriously and utilize the opportunity to make individual and family plans.

“If you don’t practice, when it starts happening you won’t know what to do,” Pankow said.