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The City Journals

Read, remember, react: Be Ready Utah’s easy-to-remember tips for staying safe in emergencies

Feb 17, 2020 11:31AM ● By Cassie Goff

Be Ready’s Wade Mathews encourages Utah residents to take steps to be prepared for a variety of emergency situations. (Cassie Goff/City Journals)

By Cassie Goff | [email protected]

“Be the first responder,” says Be Ready Program Manager Wade Mathews. In an emergency situation, first responders are the witnesses, neighbors and/or family members. “Those closest to the disaster are the real first responders; others are the professional responders,” Mathews elaborated. 

Those at Be Ready Utah continuously aim to create a culture of preparedness. That includes encouraging individuals to become knowledgeable about emergency situations. This way, individuals can be the help until help arrives. “Be the first responder,” Mathews encourages. 

As program manager, Mathews discusses how to be a first responder with protective actions in a variety of emergency situations. Luckily, the English language has been able to help out in this task as many catchy idioms have been created to help individuals remember appropriate action in emergency situations. 

For an earthquake, “drop, cover, and hold on.” Utah residents have expressed concern over liquefaction for if/when an earthquake occurs within the valley. Mathews suggests paying attention to buildings if you’re inside during an earthquake, as “unreinforced masonry is a big thing in Utah.” 

For a structure fire, “get low and go.” Roll to the floor, don’t stand up, and get out. 

For flooding, “turn around don’t drown.” This is specifically in regard to navigating rushing waters. “Twelve inches of moving water can knock you off your feet; 18 inches can float a car,” Mathews said.  

For lightning, “when thunder rolls, go indoors.” “Lightening kills more people than any other natural disaster,” Mathews said. Previously, the widely recognized advice was to count the seconds between hearing thunder and seeing lightning to judge distance of the storm and act accordingly. However, it is now known that lightning can hit at any and all times during a storm. 

For an active shooter, “Run. Hide. Fight.” In any dangerous situation, individuals want to remove themselves from the scenario, which is why “run” leads the list. If you cannot run, then find a hiding place. If hiding doesn’t work, then it is recommended to fight. 

For a pandemic, stay home. The main advice here is social isolation. Individuals need to have food and water storage at home. And if there is a need to go outside, use personal protective equipment like masks and goggles. 

For a tornado, shelter in a low place such as a basement. Stay away from windows. And if outside, get in a ditch or a curb. 

Even though tornados are not the primary concern for Utah, they do still occur. On Aug. 11, 1999, one of the most notable weather events occurred in downtown Salt Lake City. A tornado touched down in the city’s Poplar Grove neighborhood, traveled past the Delta Center causing significant damage, toward Temple Square, across the state capitol’s lawn and fizzled in the avenues. The tornado was grounded for 14 minutes, with 115 mph winds, and caused $172 million in damages. 

In all emergency situations, the goal is to put “time and distance between you and the bad situation,” Mathews said. 

Mathews suggests many preparation activities to complete individually and to be constantly cognizant of. One of the most important is to prepare a list in case of evacuation. “Decide now what items you can’t live without. Make a list of 15 items or so, prioritize them for what is most important, write that list down on a card and keep it with an empty container.” Those items will probably include priceless irreplaceable items, but it should also include things like medication, water, food, identification and a 24-hour preparedness kit. In addition, individuals should always keep their gas tanks half-way filled. 

Other things individuals can do right now (go ahead, put down the newspaper) include making sure your home water heater is fastened to the wall, fasten tall furniture and shelves to the wall with at least one bracket, make sure your roof is fastened to the walls (relevant for homes built before the 1970s), create a disaster supply kit for 72 hours (and personalize it with items that contribute to your happiness, health and comfort in your everyday) and store more water (one gallon per person per day). 

“We want to build a culture of preparedness,” Mathews said. That not only includes individual preparation but public infrastructure, roads and utilities, with government, but also individual planning. Preparedness is a shared responsibility. 

Mathews and Cottonwood Heights Police Department Assistant Chief Paul Brenneman spoke to Cottonwood Heights residents about emergency management and preparation on Nov. 14 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Cottonwood Heights City Hall (2277 E. Bengal Blvd.). 

For more information, visit bereadyutah.gov and/or check out the Be Ready Utah Expo on March 13 and 14 at the Mountain America Expo Center (9575 S. State St., Sandy). 

For more awareness, check out the hashtag #prepareandshare on all social media channels.