Officials say Great Utah Shakeout largest per capita earthquake drill in the nation

Posted at 7:23 PM, Apr 21, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-21 21:24:20-04

UTAH -- It looks like a disaster, minus the smiles.

A realistic simulation at Saint Mark's Hospital Thursday was part of the Great Utah ShakeOut, which is a state-wide earthquake drill that is growing each year, according to Wade Mathews with the Utah Division of Emergency Management.

"We've had 976,201 people register to participate in the shakeout today," Mathews said. "That's the largest earthquake drill in the nation per capita right here in Utah."

At the hospital, staff were responding to a simulated 7.5-magnitude quake, which caused the building to collapse. There were additional injuries after an emergency helicopter tried to land just as the quake hit.

Emergency room physician Mark Shah says drills like this provide invaluable experience for the hospital staff.

"In a situation like this, many of our hospitals are going to be damaged themselves," he said. "We're going to have more patients than we're used to taking care of, and so we may utilize alternate sites like this blue tent."

At the same time, students at Newman Elementary School are practicing what they would do in the same situation.

Manessa Adams is a kindergarten teacher, so for most of her students, this is the first earthquake drill they’ve ever experienced.

"A lot of them didn't know what an earthquake was, so we watched a little video about why earthquakes happen and what it looks like if a real one occurs so that they felt a little safer," Adams said. "That's our most important goal, to make them feel safe."

Simultaneously, lawmakers at the capital drilled evacuations as the Utah Division of Emergency Management practiced how to respond.

"We're going to start responding to mission requests, resource needs, do communications, all the different elements of a response to an earthquake," Mathews said.

It's a drill that's more important than ever before. This week, researchers told FOX 13 that in the next 50 years, there's a 43 percent chance of at least one earthquake of a magnitude 6.75 or greater occurring along the Wasatch Front.