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The City Journals

One year later: West Valley City makes progress in emergency preparation

May 03, 2021 01:28PM ● By Travis Barton

A trailer park on the west side close to Magna received the brunt of the earthquake from a year ago. One year later, city officials feel better prepared for a natural disaster. (File photo Travis Barton/City Journals)

By Travis Barton | [email protected]

West Valley City is “better prepared now than it ever has been” according to the city’s Fire Chief and Emergency Manager John Evans. 

Evans said this in early April addressing the City Council regarding the city’s current emergency management status.  

“We are light-years ahead of where we were last year at this time,” Evans said of their disaster preparation.

With over a year gone since the pandemic began and a 5.7 earthquake rocked Magna and West Valley City, Evans gave a detailed report on the city’s adjustments and protocols in the wake of those federally declared disasters. 

Evans said he never thought we’d have a pandemic to this scale and hoped to never live through an earthquake, but wants to make sure they’re ready for the next one. 

“When we talk about the pandemic, I don’t think anyone was ready for one of this size,” Evans said. “But I think as a city, we’ve done a fabulous job with everybody.” 

Currently, the city continues to follow COVID-19 mandates from the county and state levels. He said they are pushing vaccinations, social distancing and continue upgraded cleaning. 

City officials continue to work with FEMA for assistance grants and programs to help both the residents and city-owned facilities. Evans noted the process has been a little unorthodox because usually FEMA officials evaluate the damage in person. However, due to the pandemic, it’s required lots of photos being sent back and forth of the damage and the fix. 

Evans credited every department in the city for stepping up, also noting they’ve learned plenty through these two major situations. 

City Hall serves as the Emergency Operations Center where they’ve updated the communications and electronic equipment. They also updated and stocked the mobile EOC, a large trailer that was set up in the parking lot at city headquarters during the earthquake last year since City Hall couldn’t be used due to the magnitude.

Due to the pandemic, they also implemented a virtual EOC which operates on a continual basis. 

“One thing we must do is redundancy,” Evans said. “We can do mobile, virtual, we can do a combo of all three.”

The system they’ve implemented with the IT department Evans believes to be “better than any that’s out there in the state.” 

“In fact, we’ve had other cities ask us for how we’ve done it,” he said. “We can actually operate an entire incident virtually. It’s a great system.” 

New situational awareness software was installed which can provide a common operating picture for everyone to see virtually. 

Emergency plans are now updated as well such as the city’s emergency operations, continuity of operations, mitigation, and pandemic plans (it was previously the smallest plan, it has now grown). They are also working on an incident specific plan. 

A new three-year training plan is implemented, where every other month the city does exercises. Recently, emergency management completed a winter storm and cybersecurity exercises. Evans said they also started the FEMA independent study courses for specific departments. 

The next steps focus on recovery planning and taking inventory of the system to see what they have and what needs to be ordered. It also includes hazard analysis identifying the most likely risks for the city. Evans said they’ll also continue to refine the systems now implemented. 

One program Evans feels positive about is implementing FEMA’s lifelines program that focuses on what needs to be done after the disaster to give a road map back to normal. It identifies the priorities of what to resolve first.

In the event multiple disasters strike at the same time? “We’ll fight it one piece at a time,” Evans said. 

Mayor Ron Bigelow said he was “personally very impressed” with how emergency management handled the earthquake. “Not just in the actual work, but in the timing of how quickly you were able to respond and assist people.”