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The City Journals

SLCC preps for future earthquake

May 03, 2021 01:21PM ● By Hannah LaFond

Students on SLCC campus in the rain. (Photo courtesy SLCC)

By Hannah LaFond | [email protected]

Since March 2020, when the Salt Lake area experienced a 5.7 magnitude earthquake, many have taken earthquake preparedness more seriously. According to Emergency Manager Lisa Schwartz, this is the case at Salt Lake Community College. 

On April 15, students and faculty at SLCC participated in Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drills, a yearly earthquake drill with over 25 million participants from schools, businesses, organizations and households. Many other local schools participated, including Arcadia Elementary, John C. Fremont Elementary and Olympus Junior High. 

During the event, participants are asked to "Drop, Cover, and Hold On," meaning they need to drop to the ground, cover their head and necks with their arms, seek shelter under something sturdy and stay under that shelter until the drill is over. In the event of an actual earthquake, you'd stay under shelter until the shaking stops. 

The drill helps students and faculty learn how to behave if an earthquake did come, and it allows the Campus Emergency Response Team to practice their procedures. This is especially important because the team can find any flaws in their system before there is an actual emergency. 

For example, on April 15, a comms test operated during the drill at SLCC found that some of the radios weren't working correctly. Thanks to the test, they were able to issue new radios so they won't have the same problems in the future. 

But, for the most part, the drill went smoothly. Mark Brown, the Building Marshal at SLCC's airport campus, said of the event, that "All of the Airport Faculty and Staff Participated. All participants took the drill seriously, were cooperative and compliant with safety measures." 

Earthquake preparedness is especially important in Utah because of the number of faults, particularly along the Wasatch Front. Because of this, there's likely to be a big earthquake in the future.

Schwartz said she'd seen an overall rededication to earthquake preparedness since the March 2020 quake. She said she's particularly noticed this shift in leadership and their eagerness to get back to in-person training as soon as it's safe with COVID-19 precautions. 

Schwartz also said she'd seen the commitment to safety increase more generally. 

"I think many in Utah, particularly in Salt Lake and Davis County, have been affected by the earthquake enough to realize what preparedness should really look like given that a much larger quake is expected at any time," she said.

This past year has been particularly challenging for SLCC's Emergency Team. Not only have they had their regular training to worry about, but they've also encountered a building fire at their main campus, a windstorm, the March earthquake. On top of these events, they've been orchestrating COVID-19 safety precautions. 

"As busy as we are with one type of incident, it has not allowed us to neglect the others,” Schwartz said. “We train as emergency managers for all hazards, but not many of us foresaw that we would face a few at the same time or in close proximity. I am optimistic, however, in our ability to perform well, as I have seen the incredible capabilities of our team here at SLCC as we have persevered, and I would have no doubt in the capability of my colleagues as they do the same."

The goal of events like the Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drills is to allow participants to mentally and physically prepare themselves for an emergency. As the emergency manager, Schwartz is responsible for preparing SLCC students and faculty for an array of possible emergencies. One of her goals is to provide proper training without causing too much anxiety around a potential crisis. 

"We try to balance the need for awareness with the risk of anxiety," Schwartz said. "It is important to note that if we do not allow ourselves to think about how we would respond in frightening situations, we are depriving our body and mind of the opportunity to prepare itself. Having thought about and physically acting out how we would respond allows the body to prepare for action physiologically as well as letting our minds go there as well but within a safe environment, so to speak. If we do not allow ourselves to think about the 'what ifs,' then we are certain to find ourselves in a situation where we at the minimum shut down and freeze up or at best, delay our response."