The recent wave of temblors along the most active portion of the Wasatch Fault are a timely reminder of why our schools prepare for earthquakes.

Scientists say we have a 57 percent chance of at least one 6.0 magnitude earthquake hitting the Wasatch Front region in the next 50 years, and a 43 percent chance of 6.75 magnitude earthquake erupting. Those are roughly the same odds of winning at blackjack, and predictions for the lives lost, injuries sustained and damage to homes and businesses are devastating.

Canyons District’s schools prepare for the inevitability of this and other natural (or not so natural) disasters by conducting regular emergency drills—and April is the month for earthquake preparedness. CSD schools will join emergency responders, hospitals and businesses throughout the state in participating in the Great Utah ShakeOut on April 18. The 10:15 a.m. disaster-planning event is also a great way for families to prepare to survive and recover from catastrophic calamities. earquaketips

Emergency management experts agree that when the Earth starts rocking and rolling, “drop, cover and hold,” is the appropriate action plan to reduce injury and death. “Families should also take time to identify a safe place outside the home to meet after the shaking stops, and designate a family member outside the state to serve as a chief contact person to relay information,” says CSD’s Risk Management Coordinator Kevin Ray. “And, of course, all families should have food and water stored, and 72-hour kits equipped with flashlights, important documents, and first aid materials.”

The safety and welfare of children is a communitywide priority in Canyons District where schools work hand-in-hand with cities, first responders, non-profit groups and citizens to safeguard neighborhoods and prepare for emergencies.

In partnership with the American Red Cross and local governments, Canyons participates in the S.A.F.E. Neighborhoods Program. SAFE – an acronym for Schools Aid Families in Emergencies — trains community volunteers to mobilize as a neighborhood until outside help arrives. The idea behind it is to build the capacity of neighbors to help neighbors in the 96 hours immediately following a catastrophic event, the amount of time that it can take for first responders to reach those in need.

In the event of a major emergency, elementary schools become hubs for communities to gather and organize. All of our elementary schools store a large black tote containing maps and radio frequencies — everything that CERT teams, ham radio operators and other do-gooders need to set up a communications hub, begin search-and-rescue operations and reunify families.

There’s never a good day to receive a bomb threat. But it’s hard to imagine worse timing for the threat lodged against Sunrise Elementary last year.

It was November on the first Tuesday after the long Thanksgiving weekend, and students were just settling back into a steady routine when the phone rang in one of the classrooms at Sunrise. The person fated to answer the anonymous, blocked call was a substitute teacher. “There’s a bomb set to go off in the cafeteria in five minutes,” was all the caller would say.

The clock was ticking, but Sunrise students were well practiced at evacuating the school. Within three minutes of the phone call and Principal Margaret Swanicke’s immediate evacuation announcement, all 650 students plus employees had exited the building and reassembled at a predetermined location. Everyone was safe and accounted for.

“The kids were calm. They assumed it was a drill and knew exactly how to behave and line up outside,” Swanicke says. “That’s why you do emergency drills, and why you should take them seriously, because you never know when something might actually happen.”smallbombthreat

In Canyons District, November is the month for elementary schools to practice responding to a bomb threat. Middle and high schools do lockdown and shelter-in-place drills.

Bomb threats are rare, affecting fewer than 1 percent of the nation’s nearly 99,000 public schools on any given year—and 90 percent are hoaxes—as was the case with Sunrise. But hoax threats are no joke.

Since 2014, there has been a 33 percent increase in these types of threats against schools, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, disrupting schools and wasting precious law enforcement resources. “We have to take each threat seriously and thoroughly investigate it to determine its credibility,” says Canyons District Risk Manager Kevin Ray. “What some students might think is an innocent joke can be very costly in terms of instruction-time lost and all the law enforcement personnel who have to respond.”

For this reason, law enforcement agencies are taking hoax threats more seriously and prosecuting them as federal crimes. Canyons District encourages parents to talk to their children about the risk of posting and sharing hoax threats on social media, and urges anyone who sees something unsafe to say something by reporting it through the anonymous crisis and safety tipline SafeUT.

The problem with sharing tips in public forums, such as Facebook or Instagram, is that it lends credibility to false threats and stirs panic in school communities. “There’s nothing that strikes fear in the heart of a parent than to hear their child may be in danger,” Swanicke says. “This is why we have well-established protocols in place for directly and immediately notifying parents of emergencies in as clear and transparent a way as possible. Parents deserve to know about the safety and whereabouts of their children, and keeping everyone informed helps all of us keep cooler heads in a crisis.”

The threat at Sunrise was ruled-out as baseless following a full sweep of the school by police and K-9 units. But as with all such events, it was a learning experience for the District, which updated its emergency notifications to more accurately reflect the steps that students and faculty are trained to take during a bomb threat. The school also made changes to entry and exit points to allow for greater mobility in the event of an emergency.

“The hoax bomb threat wasn’t a planned drill, but it gave us a chance to examine and refine some of our safety measures,” Swanicke says. “This is why we approach each drill as if the emergency were real.”
Many Canyons District schools are participating in the 2013 Great Utah Shakeout
The second-annual statewide earthquake safety drill will be Wednesday, April 17, at 10:15 a.m. At that time, those participating will “drop, cover and hold on” as if an earthquake of great magnitude had hit the Wasatch Front.
The mock disaster will test the preparedness of schools, businesses, hospitals, city governments and families in case of an earthquake. The Great Utah Shakeout is sponsored by FEMA Region VIII, Emergency Essentials, Wal-Mart, Utah Disaster Kleenup, Deseret News, and the Enterprise Business Journal.

See ABC4's report of Altara Elementary participating in the Great Utah Shakeout.