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The City Journals

City officials take part in disaster simulation

May 07, 2018 11:45AM ● By Justin Adams

Sandy City officials and employees take cover under some tables during a pretend earthquake. (Justin Adams/Sandy City Journal)

Members of the Sandy City administration and city council spent April 3 responding to emergency situations caused by an earthquake. If Sandy residents don’t remember feeling any tremors on that day, it’s because the earthquake was only in their imaginations.

The pretend earthquake was part of an emergency preparation activity that runs participants through simulation of a natural disaster in a manner similar to tabletop role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons.

After being assigned to various roles and groups within an imaginary city, the Sandy city officials had to select a limited number of resource cards from a prepared list. Then City Emergency Manager Jeff Mulcahy announced the pretend earthquake and had all the participants take shelter under the tables. 

“Don’t go under a doorway. That’s a myth,” said Mulcahy.

Then each group was given a different critical situation resulting from the earthquake along with two options for how to address the situation, each option requiring different combinations of resource cards that the group may or may not have chosen at the beginning.

To illustrate the importance of coordinating between different communities, the groups were able to trade resource cards with one another.

City Administrative Officer Matt Huish said following the simulation he saw many parallels between it and his experience helping with relief efforts in Haiti. “The most critical thing is how you communicate between communities,” he said. 

Each group was impeded by a variety of obstacles, including a “chasm” that split the room in two, a fire that broke out following the earthquake and competition between the participants. In the end, only two groups were able to achieve their objective.

Mulcahy said that while the game’s format can encourage competitiveness, an actual disaster is not a zero-sum game and that people are more generous and willing to help and share than in the simulation.

“The purpose is to get people to think about the importance of coalitions,” said Mulcahy. “It’s easier to work with people you have a prior relationship with.” 

He also said the activity has helped him realize the importance for he and other city officials to be out in the community getting to know business leaders and city officials. That way, in the case of a natural disaster, the city will be able to more effectively coordinate with other organizations to help deliver aid.

The simulation program and materials are owned by the county so any city within the county can have access to them. Other community groups in Sandy who would like to try the simulation are welcome to contact Mulcahy through the city.