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

Published: Tuesday, April 17 2012 4:00 p.m. MDT

The ShakeOut is the public side — essentially a powerful marketing tool — to get some 940,000 Utahns to plan and practice what they would do during the real thing, said Joe Dougherty, spokesman for the Utah Division of Emergency Management.

Less visible is a network of emergency operations centers sith teams of state, county and city experts in transportation, search and rescue, law enforcement, firefighting, public utilities, military and other areas.

Each emergency team gathers in its operations center. Another group, called a SimCell, feeds the team scenarios such as collapsed buildings, shattered freeways, fires, utility outages and so on.  

The team then discusses the scenario, referred to as an "injection," and decides how to respond and what resources to use — sending out anything from search and rescue teams, National Guard units, even backhoes.

"They must decide what needs to go where," Dougherty said. But those are just "table top" exercises that do not involve anything real.

Tuesday the Salt Lake County emergency response team acted as a SimCell, sending out injections to many emergency centers. The West Valley City EOC, for instance, responded to 66 such scenarios, said Steve Sautter, Salt Lake County emergency specialist.

Other highlights from the day of drills:

• The University of Utah evacuated every building on campus, sending students and staff out into Tuesday's rain.

• Primary Children's Medical Center used makeup to create simulated injuries that triage teams had to sort out and respond to.

• The Associated Food Stores corporate office and warehouse in West Valley City had more than 200 employees drop, cover and hold, then evacuate its 200,000-square-foot building. Its 46 grocery stores didn't close to the public or evacuate, said safety director Dave Karpowitz. Each store made an announcement and eight-member employee teams practiced emergency response procedures, then reported results to regional managers.

• Many small businesses got into the action. In South Salt Lake, at Camp Bow Wow, which provides boarding and day care to dogs, at 10:15 workers ran into three play rooms, calling the dogs to go outside, said owner Sharon Opfermann. About three-fourths of the 79 dogs complied during the 30-second faux quake, she said.

In the real thing, "the dogs will probably tell us that something is wrong before we do," she said.

Utah plans a ShakeOut every year, just as California has for the past five years, Dougherty said. The emergency operations centers' exercises will not be as extensive, but planners hope to exceed 1 million Utahns signing up for the ShakeOut.

E-mail: lbrubaker@desnews.com

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