The Great County ShakeOut
Summit County participated in Utah’s statewide earthquake drill on April 17, with some frustrations and speed bumps.
"My primary frustrations were our inability to connect with the state and figure out what they wanted from us, so we could respond in a way that worked," County Emergency Manager Kevin Callahan said.
Problems arose the moment the simulation began.
Between password problems and sluggish computers a decade old, county officials were unable to open the e-mail application to communicate with the state.
"The IT guy actually had to change our password to get us in there," Callahan said. "We need to make sure our equipment is working next time, and test it all out. The laptops we have in the Emergency Operations Center are very old. And while they were powered up, they were struggling just to open small applications. The IT guy had to give me his computer. He tried with the other one for a while and just couldn’t get anywhere."
It took county officials 15 minutes to log into the computer, and another five to download the state’s instructions.
"We definitely need better receiving and sending equipment in the Emergency Operations Center, and our federal monies are significantly reduced so we have to figure out ways to fund that," he said.
After Sept. 11, 2011, a flood of federal money came to the county, Callahan added. However, the money has since been reduced to a minute portion of what it used to be.
"To me, that implies the county is going to have to start shouldering a portion of this. We cannot expect the federal government to be paying a significant portion of it anymore. So that will be a new challenge for me, to argue for more funding in our current environment," he said.
Attempting to establish contact with the state caused further setbacks.
"They had six different ways we could contact the state Emergency Operations Center, and we were having a real challenge making a connection. One of the channels they had directed us to use appeared to be occupied by another user group," he said.
The county also did not have the number for the Emergency Operations Center.
"We were told we were supposed to know that," he said. "But I’ve taken over from the old emergency manager and some of the information didn’t get transmitted. And the folks who work in dispatch call them very rarely, so they didn’t have it accessible. So it was little glitches like that. It points out what we need to have at our fingertips."
An additional 30 to 40 minutes passed before contact with the state was established.
Callahan said it’s critical to have multiple communication paths, because some will be functional and overloaded, while others won’t be accessible at all.
"So it requires a lot of redundant systems in place," he said. "If you don’t know what’s going on at the other end of the communication spectrum, then either you can’t tell them what you need or they can’t tell you what they need. And you can’t coordinate to help someone else."
The state asked the county to respond to issues that might develop following a major earthquake, such as loss of utilities and deputies, interstate bridge collapses, and damaged water systems.
Callahan said he wants to look at the state’s ShakeOut After-Action Report when it becomes available.
"We’re one little community out there," he said. "We had one set of experiences with them. I don’t know if our experiences were unique or were duplicated in lots of places. So I’d like to see their After-Action Report to see what kinds of problems they had in their systems."
If it were a real earthquake, all the major operation centers in the Salt Lake Valley would be overwhelmed, he said.
"So I would not be surprised at all that even if we had everything up and running, and all the equipment and so forth, that there would be problems," he said. "So they’ll have to prioritize, and the first thing they’ll have to do is take care of their own community. I don’t think any information exchange between us and them in the first 12 to 24 hours is going to be all that significant."
Following the state exercise, the county simulated its own scenario, with specific problems, such as the failure of bridges at the mouth of Parley’s Canyon, power outages for up to 96 hours, stranded visitors and limited food supplies.
"For the county one, I took our team and broke it into two operational periods," Callahan said. "Typically when you’re running an Emergency Operations Center, you would run a team for 12 hours, which is one operational period. I compressed that 24 hours into 2 hours, with each team taking an hour. So, of course, compressing 12 hours into an hour is very difficult."
Derrick Radke, county incident commander in the state’s scenario, said the experience was new for him.
"I figured out that I probably need additional training in incident command," he said. "I’ve done a few trainings, but I’ve never paid much attention to the incident commander role. I felt like I was more of a support person. It was a little bit different."
Radke said he felt the exercise went well, but that they could have done a few more realistic scenarios.
"In a real emergency it’s likely you’ll have a lot more things come in than you can deal with," he said. "It was actually one of the first county exercises that tried to simulate an actual emergency instead of all of us getting into a room and being told what we’re supposed to do, so I thought it was a good thing and that we should do more of them," he said.
Callahan said he will use team members to further test county operations as they move forward. He may even design a similar exercise in the coming months to continue honing their strategies and implementation.
Not only does the county need to continue disaster preparations, but residents do as well, he said.
"We need people to be self-sufficient for some period of time, until we can provide whatever level of resources we have," he said. "There’s just not enough of us. In a typical day we might have 15 deputies who can go out and do something. That’s not very many people if we have a mass event and we have a lot of injuries and different incidents going on. So the more people are prepared and able to do that, the better we’re all going to come through it.
Lessons learned during the Great ShakeOut
Courtesy of Summit County
1. Test your communications and information technology equipment prior to any exercise.
2. Gather information on all response resources and have them available in an easy-to-use format.
3. Develop better communication protocols among the participants so that we can track what problems have been addressed in a timelier manner.
4. Assess the current level of training among county staff and develop a proactive training plan.
5. Upgrade the computers and phones in the Emergency Operations Center to improve our response capability.
6. Need to develop a protocol for staff response to earthquake drop, cover and hold on and building evaluation.
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Single and making less than $64,000? Good luck finding a place to live in Summit County.