Nothing could prevent a titanic wave of water from rushing down Provo Canyon should the Deer Creek Dam fail for some reason.
But an evacuation plan for the area that would be in the most danger, Provo's Riverbottoms, could save lives.The city has recently completed a plan to provide a quick, orderly and safe retreat to shelter in the event of a catastrophic release of water. Police Chief Swen Nielsen did much of the work on the plan.
The city will hold public education meetings on the plan in early May. It will also mail copies of the plan to the 1,069 residences and businesses in the flood plain.
"I think there's no doubt Provo City will get a lot of water if that dam ever breaks," said City Council member Ben Porter.
That's an understatement. Should an earthquake, for instance, rupture the 150-foot-high, earth-filled barrier, it's estimated that flood depths could reach 20 feet and flow speeds 15 mph. Nielsen said residents would have one to two hours to pack up some provisions and head for higher ground.
The city's plan covers an area from the mouth of the canyon to University Parkway on the north and south and the natural benches on the east and west sides - approximately Provo Canyon Road and Carterville Road.
The entire area is about 3.5 miles long and 0.7 miles wide. It also includes a residential area in Orem and some fields of unincorporated property.
Nielsen is seeking $40,000 from the City Council to install three early warning sirens in three geographical evacuation sectors outlined in the plan. The divisions were made to make escape routes more efficient. Designated shelters are Westridge Elementary School, the Orem Senior Citizens Center, Timpview High School and the Marriott Center at Brigham Young University.
TCI Cablevision of Utah will build two emergency-alert features into its cable system. One allows the city to override the audio on all television channels to advise cable subscribers of emergency situations. The other is an optional link to the National Weather Service available for subscribers and non-subscribers.
Tom Martin, city chief administrative officer, said the evacuation plan is not intended to alarm residents; instead, it was written to inform them.
"This simply is a matter of being prepared," said Mayor Joe Jenkins. Because of liability and citizen safety concerns, the city has "some direct responsibility in civil preparedness," he said.
Citizens also have to take responsibility for emergency preparedness, according to the plan. It encourages Riverbottoms residents to have 72-hour emergency kits available and to obtain flood insurance.