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Proposed Utah museum would allow visitors to experience disasters safely

Published: Saturday, Oct. 20 2012 12:08 a.m. MDT

In this 1999 file photo, Lori Egly examines the damage a tornado did to her Avenues home.

Chuck Wing, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — A place to have fun with disasters and learn at the same time.

That's the premise of a new kind of museum in the works for Utah, the first of its kind anywhere in the world.

"This would be like Universal Studios meets disaster readiness," said Darlene Turner, executive director of the Disaster Discovery Center project.

Whether it's with fires, floods, tornadoes or earthquakes, nature has plenty of ways to make life difficult. The proposed museum would offer a way to safely experience such events through elaborate simulations and special effects.

The goal would be to teach visitors how to deal with a disaster and how to prepare in advance.

Turner, a veteran of two decades in the museum industry, envisions a 30,000-square-foot facility with numerous interactive exhibits, simulations and hands-on learning facilities.

She began planning the facility more than a year and a half ago. It was incorporated as the Disaster Safety Museum Inc. last year.

Turner has been quietly rounding up support from government agencies and educational institutions and expects to begin a fundraising campaign next year.

Emergency preparedness officials are enthusiastic about the museum's potential as a teaching tool.

"Any new way we have to get that information out is a bonus for us," said Steve Sautter of the Salt Lake County Emergency Operations Center. "It's hands-on rather than trying to get someone to read a pamphlet."

Kris Hamlet, deputy director of Utah's Department of of Public Safety, sent Turner a letter of support in July.

"We foresee added opportunities to get current and accurate information into the hands of our citizens," Hamlet wrote. "We look forward to our continued alliance with you in support of this project."

Turner said she envisions exhibits that would allow visitors to enter a room and experience a simulated tornado or earthquake.

"All of a sudden, that hits and the shaking starts," she said. "And you're experiencing the movement of this kind of experience. And then right after, things are going to shake off the walls and do all that kind of stuff."

After the shaking stops, the visitor would move on, perhaps to an outside area.

"You would exit and see the destruction that an earthquake might have done," Turner said. "You're going to see aftereffects — how you crawl through spaces, how you help each other."

A brochure describes the Disaster Discovery Center as "a gathering place where fun meets emergency preparation."

Although the museum's planning materials describe the fun and excitement of disaster simulations, the overall emphasis is on educational opportunities for visitors.

"It creates an environment where they're not threatened, but they're still getting the serious information about preparing for emergencies," Turner said.

An architectural firm has begun drawing up preliminary designs, but no site has been selected for the proposed museum. With the fundraising campaign still about a year away, it's likely to be several more years before the museum becomes a reality.

Email: hollenhorst@desnews.com

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