Leaders of an LDS congregation in Price were meeting last Sunday to discuss, among other things, emergency preparedness, when nature decided to underscore the point.

The building began to shake, the door rattled and Richard Jewkes, a church member and Utah Department of Transportation dispatcher, heard what he at first thought was a sonic boom."Somebody said . . . `I think we're having an earthquake,' " Jewkes said. To him, that emphasized the need to be ready to deal with potential disasters.

"It really drove that point home," he said.

A few minutes later, Jewkes was called away to help coordinate communications as state authorities tried to assess the effects of a series of quakes that had rumbled across central Utah and were felt throughout much of Utah, Colorado and New Mexico.

The three quakes, the largest with a magnitude of 5.6 on the Richter scale, were followed by more than a dozen aftershocks, including one Thursday morning that registered 4.6 on the Richter scale. The epicenter of the quakes was 34 miles south of Price in the San Rafael Swell area, where no major fault had previously been known.

Though they caused no injuries or significant damage, the temblors have raised public awareness about the threat of earthquakes, said Lorayne Frank, director of the state Division of Comprehensive Emergency Management.

"It has gotten the attention of the public, not only in that area, but in other parts of the state because people realize we live in an earthquake area," Frank said. "A lot of people have called in asking for information" on how to prepare for a quake.

Utahns have reason to be concerned, since most of the state's 1.7 million people live along or near the Wasatch Fault, where geologists predict a major quake within the next 50 years.

For the past year, Frank's office has been working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to formulate a comprehensive plan to respond to a major quake in Utah. But in the wake of a disaster, government agencies will probably be swamped and many individuals will have to fend for themselves for a while, she said.

Frank recommends that every home have a "72-hour kit," a survival package with enough food, water, medical supplies and other necessities to sustain a household for three days and nights if necessary.

Preparedness is also important on the neighborhood level.

"There are a lot of resources in a neighborhood," she said. Neighbors should cooperate on plans to respond to a disaster and should know such things as who owns a citizens band radio.

If you're actually in a quake, the most important thing is to avoid panic, she said.

"Before you do anything, try to stay calm," she said. "And stay put. If your're indoors, try to stay indoors. If you're outdoors, try to stay outdoors."

During a quake, most injuries occur while people are entering or leaving buildings, she said.

Her office conducts training seminars for churches, utility companies and other groups, but Frank says most Utahns are already aware of what they need to be ready for an emergency.

She credits much of this awareness to the LDS Church, which encourages its members to be prepared and urges families to keep a one-year emergency food supply.