When fire broke out on the foothills of Lindon a year ago, residents didn't know what they were in for. Nor did they realize what would happen when flash floods came a short time later. But when a wall of water headed toward Lindon on May 22, residents knew that they could be in for big trouble if they didn't act quickly.
The folks from Lindon have been forced to learn about disasters, and now government entities throughout the county are taking note and preparing themselves for future emergencies.Case in point: Utah County has recently organized a countywide emergency management council (see related story on page B1), and a number of cities in the valley have decided to strengthen their emergency preparedness plans.
Lindon, for example, decided to establish an emergency-management team after the Murdock Canal broke this spring.
"We kind of seem to be plagued with emergencies," Lindon City Administrator Ray Brown said. "We have learned some lessons and are trying to get better prepared for the next one."
Lindon had a disaster plan but no specific person to coordinate it. The city's public works director will double as the Emergency Management Team coordinator, and the mayor, city council, city engineer and two representatives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also will be part of that team.
Because a large percentage of Utah County residents are LDS Church members, the church plays a big role in emergency preparedness in the county. Many cities rely on the church for its emergency plans and communication links in getting the word out during a disaster.
Lehi Police Chief Bill Gibbs said a major part of Lehi's Emergency Preparedness Plan is based on support from the LDS Church because "they know the people better. They know who is locked in or who depends on electricity. The structure is in line already."
Brown said that in Lindon the community has been willing to help during emergencies, but lack of communication and coordination during past disasters put people at risk.
"We need to have better control," he said. "We thought we were operating in a proper way but found out that we have a lot of room for improvement."
Next time a disaster hits, Brown said, they plan to coordinate their efforts with the LDS Church and other groups throughout the community.
"As the word spread (of the flood), we had too much response," he said. There were more people than we could handle. That was a mistake. There was no control."
Lindon officials say they will also take advantage of the county's expertise and set up a command post.
Lt. Gary Clayton, emergency-management coordinator for the Utah County sheriff's office, was in Lindon during the canal break to assist.
His office provides emergency-management services for whatever an emergency requires. Most cities in the county are prepared to deal with earthquakes, floods, chemical spills or gas leaks.
When called on, Clayton sets up a mobile command post, known as an Incident Command System.
A demonstration of the mobile command post and the varied communication equipment used by the organization was set up in the athletic field west of Cougar Stadium Aug. 5. State and local government officials were invited to inspect the equipment.
Clayton said the demonstration was held to inform the county's civic leaders about the emergency resources that are available to them.
"If we marshal our maximum resources and apply them to the end, it is better for the citizens," he said. "When we practice, coordinate and cooperate, we are putting our money where our mouth is."
The sheriff's office operates the interagency mobile command post in conjunction with the Utah County Commission, the Utah County Fire Department, the U.S. Forest Service, state Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management.
"Nobody has money anymore, so we decided to commit a little each and get the maximum benefits," Clayton said. "This is a fully cooperative effort in the county. We're not aware of it being a function in any other place in the state. We've been fortunate to have good support."
The mobile command post has been in operation since 1983. Clayton handles emergencies and disasters in Utah County and in other cities and counties when called to do so.
Cities are responsible for their own jurisdictions, but if they have little resources, manpower or commitment to emergency services, they can call on the county's emergency operations.
American Fork Police Chief John Durrant said: "We look to ourselves first, but cities our size have limited resources, and so we look to the county and state when we need to. The county has been great to work with."
Springville, on the other hand, is going to great extremes to prepare for emergencies. The city has its own Emergency Preparedness Committee, headed by Chief of Police Leland Bowers.
"I believe an emergency will come someday, and when it comes we will be able to identify our resources and exercise them and be ahead of others in resolving problems," Bowers said.
The committee meets once a month and has several projects always under way. During spring, 3,000 residents participated in a mock disaster drill in which they left their homes, equipped with a 72-hour kit, and walked to a shelter.
"We are reasonably well-prepared, but there is still a great deal of apathy. Some believe that either God will protect them or the federal government will feed them," Bowers said.
Preparing for emergencies has also become more of a top priority for Pleasant Grove now that the city has had to face several disasters along with its neighbor, Lindon.
"With the fire, flooding and the canal break, we realized that things can happen quickly," said Sherri Atwood, emergency-response coordinator for the city. "We are much more prepared and organized than we were in the past, but we still need improvements.'
Clayton said: "I believe in this. Being prepared is the best way to handle a disaster. There are always things we could do, but we are much better prepared today than we were a year ago. It's an onward thing."