Shakeout: Utah students join thousands of others to 'drop, cover and hold'

Published: Tuesday, April 17 2012 7:28 p.m. MDT

Edwyn Diego-Garcia, left, Diego Melendez Escobar, Jonathan Sotelo Munoz and Emanuel Romero, students in Danielle Wilson's kindergarten class, participate in an earthquake drill at Vista Elementary in Taylorsville, Tuesday, April 17, 2012. This was part of the Great Utah ShakeOut.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

Related articles: The Deseret News has been running a series on earthquake preparation in conjunction with the Great Utah ShakeOut drill.

SALT LAKE CITY — Aaron Loony struggled to get under his desk, his movements a bit jerky and labored. Once he did, he pulled himself in tightly, holding to the desk as best he could.

His classmates at Taylorsville High School also huddled under their desks as Carolyn Visser, Aaron's personal aide, cautioned them, "You have to hold on (to your desks), these things will walk away from you," she said. "If you don't practice it, in the real thing your head or spine will be injured."

Moments later, the shrill fire alarm gave the evacuation signal. Aaron mounted his motorized wheelchair. More seconds ticked off as he struggled to snap the seat belt together.

Once ready, he flicked the control lever and zipped off. Visser called after him: "Go as fast as you can go, but go as safe as you can go." 

The 17-year-old high school junior with cerebral palsy was among more than 900,000 Utahns who participated Tuesday morning in Utah's largest earthquake drill in history — the Great Utah ShakeOut. Almost 600,000 other students at 450 schools throughout Utah also crouched under desks and practiced "Drop, Cover and Hold."

"Drop to the ground (before the earthquake drops you!). Take cover by getting under a sturdy desk or table, and hold on to it until the shaking stops," advises The Great Utah ShakeOut website.

The massive drill at 10:15 a.m. also included around 120,000 participants at 48 colleges and universities, 55,000 at 485 businesses, 15,000 at 119 medical facilities and many others.

Despite his extra challenges, Aaron pulled himself to the top of a flight of stairs, ready to be lifted down to an exit door well within the two minutes and 30 seconds it took to clear the school. Within 10 minutes of the drill's start the Taylorsville students were filing back into class.

The students, who practice three fire, one earthquake and a lockdown drill every year, seemed to take it all in stride. "I thought it went excellent," summed up assistant principal John Shackelford. "We figure 2:40, 2:45 is good, but we did it in 2:30."

For some organizations, the ShakeOut was also a bit of a rainout. Since it was only a drill, Taylorsville High students weren't made to stand out in the steady drizzle. 

Neither were students at West Hills Middle School in West Jordan.

"We're not going out in the rain," Jacinto Peterson, vice principal, said before the drill. "If it is coming down, I don't want to go out there."

Ninth-grade students in Megan Waller's class also quickly ducked under their desks. She reminded the kids that it's most important to protect three parts of their bodies: "Head and neck and heart. Make sure those are covered, please."

They, too, gathered near the exit doors to stay dry. Waller pointed out that outside is not always the safest place to go, where there might be hazards such as downed power lines. "These drills are actually really common for the students," she said.

The school's emergency team found that on the first go-round some of the PA speakers played the drill announcements and the CD of earthquake sound too softly. They called for a re-do, "an aftershock," Peterson called it.

More importantly, from all the public attention the ShakeOut has received the students were prompted to think about the real thing happening, Waller said.

"I thought it was scary, if it was in real life," 15-year-old Skylar Cook said. "If it does happen, I would know what to do."

For some public officials, the exercise will last past Tuesday's drill.

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