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Jr. high science students shining light on Holladay emergency preparedness gap

Feb 21, 2019 11:56AM ● By Justin Adams

Students from Olympus Jr. High gave a presentation about earthquake preparedness to the Holladay City Council. (Justin Adams/The City Journals)

By Justin Adams | justin.a@thecityjournals.com

With several minor earthquakes happening along the Wasatch Front in recent weeks, emergency preparedness has become a hot topic. However, a group of Olympus Jr. High students have already been talking about the issue for months.

Joanne Brown, who has been teaching science at Olympus Jr. for 21 years, loves to get her students involved in real-world applications of the science they’re learning. 

“I feel like actual problem-based projects helps students to see the relevance of science in real life,” said Brown. “They see how it impacts their lives and how it impacts their community, and that they can actually make a difference.” 

This year, her honors eighth-grade science class decided to take on a months-long project where they would apply what they were learning to their community. They chose to investigate how prepared the city of Holladay is for an earthquake.

The students started by learning how to use ArcGIS, a geographic information system commonly used in all levels of government for mapping. The students were able to see the Wasatch fault line crosses I-215 in three different spots within Holladay, a big concern for transportation capabilities in the event of an earthquake.

They also used the program to conduct a survey of Holladay residents, in which they asked various questions about emergency preparedness. The students expected personal food storage to be a top concern for residents. However, the leading response turned out to be a lack of knowledge about any city or community plans in the case of an emergency.

With this in mind, Brown and her students scheduled an evening to visit the Holladay City Council to both present their findings and encourage the city to formulate a more detailed emergency plan.

While there is a section on the Holladay city website dedicated to emergency preparedness, all of the information provided is focused on helping families develop personal emergency plans. There is information about a free community class about the subject, from 2017. 

David Chisholm is a member of Holladay’s emergency committee, a voluntary position which he has held since 2002. 

He told the Holladay Journal the biggest problem is that Holladay doesn’t have a local CERT organization. CERT (community emergency response teams) is a citizen-driven organization that educates and connects resources among communities related to emergency preparedness. They host training opportunities, form city and community emergency plans and help create organizational structures at the neighborhood level. Holladay is one of the only cities in the valley without a CERT organization.

“We don’t have an active CERT team,” said Chisholm. “We have a lot of trained people. That’s something that Holladay needs.” 

Why doesn’t Holladay have one? Chisholm said it requires “much more money” to run than Holladay is able to provide. The city “runs on a tight budget,” he said. 

Chisholm also observed that the city isn’t likely to be motivated to expend more money on emergency preparedness based on the results of the few programs and events they have already attempted. He said he remembers one recent event that was widely advertised, but only a handful of residents from the entire city showed up.

“People have lived for so long without an incident that they don’t worry about it,” he said, adding that maybe the recent earthquakes will help “rattle some nerves” and get people more engaged in preparing for potential earthquakes.  

One thing the city can do, as suggested by Brown’s class, is to designate community gathering points, where residents can gather after an emergency to gather information and resources. They even want to help out with it.

“We want to use GIS to make a map of community gathering points that could be incorporated into the city’s emergency plan,” Brown told the Holladay Journal.