DRAPER A real-life trial run of Draper's revamped emergency-response plan resulted in a handful of serious mishaps during the recent Corner Canyon wildfire.
But Draper officials have vowed to incorporate the lessons learned during the 800-acre blaze into ongoing improvements of its disaster plans.
City officials are most concerned about two buses full of children who were dropped off at the bottom of the burning mountain during the mandatory evacuation. No children were lost or hurt, but dozens of parents were left in a panic, and some young children were forced to hike uphill more than a mile and a half before finding their families.
Stephanie Hogan, mother of two affected students, said the older children saved the day by guiding kindergartners home after Lone Peak Elementary and Indian Hills Middle School students were let off the buses.
The students were not taken to their regular stops because the roads were blockaded, said Jordan School District transportation director Jim Hinckle. They were not taken to a designated emergency drop-off point because the bus drivers were not instructed to take them there.
"We discovered that we probably should have gone back to the school, but it didn't happen," Hinckle said. "We were overloaded with calls. ... We are going to try to make sure that confusion doesn't happen again."
Mandatory evacuation orders were issued for the neighborhood between the time schools let out for the day and the buses reached the bottom of the mountain, Hinckle said.
The problem was made public last week when angry parents addressed the Draper City Council during a public meeting. Other residents at the meeting complained about an 88-year-old grandmother being stranded in a basement during the evacuation.
Police wouldn't allow the woman's grandson Travis Mackerell to retrieve her and even threatened arrest when he ran up the hill, Mackerell told the council. The deaf woman was eventually helped out by a neighbor.
Following the citizens' comments, the Unified Fire Authority gave an official report on the blaze. The firefighters raised issues about unsafe homes and said a group of residents who tried to stop the blaze on their own actually caused it to grow larger because firefighters had to divert resources to protect them. Firefighters fear they would not have been able to save the two dozen people if the wind had shifted, the firefighter said.
The human-caused fire in Draper's prized open-space canyon took two days to contain in late August. Homes were threatened, but none were destroyed. More than 50 families were forced to evacuate.
Draper is in the process of updating its emergency-response master plan. Because of recent changes to the disaster procedures, the city was able to set up an emergency response phone center at city hall, said Draper spokeswoman Maridene Hancock. That allowed coordination of the many agencies involved in fighting the fire and also helped get information to the media quickly.
"Overall, I think things went extremely well," she said. "In a situation like that you're bound to run into a couple of problems. ... Things went extremely well considering the gravity of the situation."
For more information on the emergency response plan, visit draper.ut.us. Those interested in better preparing themselves for emergencies can obtain Community Emergency Response Team training through the Salt Lake County Emergency Operations Center.
Residents can also help themselves by becoming familiar with those who live nearby, according to both city officials and residents."Know individual needs of your neighbors," said Christine Mackerell, the daughter of the 88-year-old woman. "Have a public awareness of those that live in your individual neighborhoods. Do it before you need it."
E-mail: [email protected]