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The City Journals

Shakeout event gave city opportunity to rehearse for disaster

May 08, 2018 03:06PM ● By Josh McFadden

Volunteers mobilized to offer residents information and to rehearse their roles in a potential disaster.

By Joshua Wood | [email protected]

Cottonwood Heights held its annual Shakeout event on April 14 to get residents acquainted with the community’s response to an earthquake or other disaster scenarios. Emergency shelters were set up, and volunteers mobilized to practice their roles in an emergency.

Cottonwood Heights Recreation Center was transformed into an emergency shelter for the event. Community members were invited to come to the shelter to see what it would be like in response to a disaster.

“In cooperation with Cottonwood Heights, the Red Cross has brought volunteers here to set up a shelter so that in a real disaster, the local people would know what a shelter looks like,” said Red Cross volunteer Stan Rosenzweig. “Hundreds of residents walk through, take a look at the shelter and become acclimated with it, so that in the event of a real earthquake or wildfire or such disaster, they understand what the shelter experience is.”

As visitors viewed rows of cots lining the basketball court of the recreation center, they could imagine the room full of families displaced by a disaster and the services that could be available to them. They would receive the shelter and emergency food, clothing, and medical attention that they would need. The Red Cross is prepared to shelter over 60,000 displaced people in the Salt Lake Valley in the event of a disaster, if needed.

“After people are taken into the shelter, we then do a one-on-one assessment with them to see if there is any way we can help fulfill some of their long-term needs,” Rosenzweig said. “Do they have insurance, are they able to take advantage of FEMA services, what’s available to them, and then we help guide them to those things.”

The Red Cross also has a cadre of volunteer social workers and psychiatrists. “In a major disaster, everybody talks about feeding and sheltering people,” Rosenzweig said. “It’s not common to think about the emotional needs, but the emotional needs are devastating." 

The Red Cross offers free apps that provide information regarding emergency shelter locations and how to prepare for specific emergencies. 

For the Shakeout event, the city mobilized 450 volunteers to conduct simulated surveys of conditions. In the event of an emergency, information from these surveys would enable City Hall to populate maps marking trouble spots in the city.

“That’s one of our goals for the day, to see if all our communications work, from small block captains for 15 to 20 homes all the way to the citywide effort,” said Mike Halligan, emergency manager for Cottonwood Heights. “A lot of the training education takes place three, four months actually before today, and today’s just a culmination of all of that.”

By using a citywide network of volunteers like block captains, the city’s emergency communication network doesn’t rely on the internet or cell phones that might be unavailable during a disaster. “One way to test the system is to load it with information, and that’s what we are doing today,” Halligan said. 

To find out what steps they should take and whom they should call in the event of a disaster, residents can call the Cottonwood Heights city offices at 801-944-7000 and ask for the emergency manager, who will put them in touch with the right people. 

A major focus of the Shakeout, and of the city’s overall emergency plan, is to make people aware of what can happen during a disaster and what they can do to prepare in advance.

Halligan added, “We’ll be here for people who truly need our help, but our goal is to make people and our community resilient enough so they can take care of themselves.”