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Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
A participant clears debris during Salt Lake County's combined emergency training exercise during the Great Utah ShakeOut at the Welby Pit in South Jordan on Thursday, April 18, 2019. The exercise was held with the Utah Department of Transportation, Salt Lake County Emergency Services, the Utah Division of Emergency Management, the Army Reserves and others.

SALT LAKE CITY — Joining nearly a million Utahns participating in the Great Utah ShakeOut, Salt Lake County public works, the Utah Department of Transportation and emergency personnel got hands-on practice Thursday for giving aid after an earthquake.

Megan Leonard is a traffic engineer for UDOT, which is typically a desk job. For one of the drills Thursday, she got behind the wheel of a snowplow to move debris from a road.

"It was kind of fun, in the end," Leonard said.

In an emergency it's unlikely she'd end up behind the wheel of a plow, she said, but the experience will help her know who to deploy and what resources to send out. She had someone coaching her throughout the exercise, and said the hands-on training helped her understand the power a snowplow has.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Leon Berrett, associate director of operations for Salt Lake County's Public Works Operations, discusses debris management during the Great Utah ShakeOut at the Welby Pit in South Jordan on Thursday, April 18, 2019.

If a large earthquake strikes in Utah, public works crews would be responsible for clearing roads to make sure emergency crews can get through.

Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson also drove the snowplow used in the drills. She said she was able to move dirt, but had trouble backing up the plow, which ended up in some plants beside the road.

"All of our county employees have some role, and we’re going through extensive planning around that," Wilson said. "I really think we collaborate well, so we would deploy our trucks and support a community that’s not in our jurisdiction."

Other drills included moving large debris like a telephone pole, boulders and cars. The Department of Public Works set up the drills to try to imitate obstacles after an earthquake or other emergency.

Clint Mecham, emergency manager for Salt Lake County, said his department helped organize the event and created a communications plan in the months leading up to the drill. He said they will have plans next year to involve his department in support and communications for the drills.

"Our job is to make sure that … we’re coordinating all of our efforts and making sure that (the public works employees) are being used the most efficiently possible and that they have everything they need," Mecham said.

In an emergency, Mecham's team would be responsible for ensuring resources from the state and federal levels reach the counties and cities in need of aid.

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Wilson said training city emergency services for incidents can only do so much without Utah households preparing as well. She said families should plan where to meet and know how to handle a minor emergency.

"It’s not just about us in government preparing for you, it’s about you preparing to support the entire system," Wilson said.

Many Utah businesses, schools and government organizations registered to take part in the Great Utah ShakeOut this year to practice what to do when there is an earthquake. The ShakeOut website advises people to drop, cover and hold on if there is an earthquake and provides ideas for how to prepare for an earthquake.