Be Ready Utah Preparing for Disaster

UB Insider #44: Preparing for the Not If, but When

About this episode:

Utah has a lot of great geographical features, from rugged mountains and canyons, to wide valleys and sparkling rivers and lakes. Unfortunately, it also has one less-than-great geographical feature: a sizeable fault line that runs through the middle of the state, north to south, and it’s a matter not of if, but when the next “big one” will hit.

In this episode of UB Insider, Wade Mathews, program manager for Be Ready Utah for the Utah Division of Emergency Management talks about how to prepare, and what to do when an earthquake, flood or other natural disaster strikes. For more information, check out Be Ready Utah and the Great Shakeout. The checklists and other guides Mathews mentioned are available here. Subscribe to our podcast or download this episode on iTunes, Stitcher or Google Play.

Lisa Christensen: Hello and welcome to UB Insider. I’m Lisa Christensen, online editor at Utah Business magazine. Utah has a lot of great geographical features: rugged mountains and canyons, wide valleys, rivers and lakes. Unfortunately, it also has one less than great geographical feature – a sizable fault line that runs through the middle of the state North to South.

The ever-living threat of a massive earthquake is a good enough reason to keep a 72-hour kit on hand, but being prepared for the unexpected is a good idea for more than just natural disasters. Here with me is Wade Mathews, Program Manager for Be Ready Utah, with the Division of Emergency Management. Welcome.

Wade Mathews: Thank you.

Lisa Christensen: Tell me about how you work to help people get and stay prepared.

Wade Mathews: That obviously is the main goal of our outreach campaign, Be Ready Utah. We offer a lot of services to help the public be more informed and take action towards preparedness. We don’t actually go out and help them get prepared, but we try to teach them how to get prepared and motivate them to take actions towards preparedness. Some of those things include setting up just an information booth at fairs, emergency fairs, safety fairs, business fairs for business employees and those types of things. We also do emergency preparedness presentations for training purposes, community events, church functions, things like that.

We go out and present emergency preparedness training to people through that way. We have our website, that has a lot of emergency preparedness information on there that people can go to, download all of our documents, read the information that’s there. We do outreach through social media accounts and various other things.

Lisa Christensen: I mentioned the fault line, and every April the state observes the Great Utah Shakeout. Tell me about that. How do people get involved? What’s the purpose?

Wade Mathews: Be Ready Utah helps sponsor the Utah Shakeout. It’s another one of our outreach programs that occurs every April on the third Thursday. So this year it’s April 20th at 10:15. We ask people to just practice the protective action for earthquakes which is called Drop, Cover and Hold On. So at 10:15, wherever you are – home, work, the store, the school, wherever – we ask people to drop, cover and hold on.

In other words, get underneath something sturdy: a desk, a table, a chair, up against a wall that doesn’t have any glass overhead – cover your head and neck with your arms and hands or hold onto the legs of the furniture. The biggest cause of injury and death from earthquakes is falling objects, not necessarily from collapsing buildings and things that we see in the movies. So getting that cover overhead helps give us protection from those falling objects, preventing injury and death possibly.

Lisa Christensen: And how do people get involved with that? You mentioned while we were talking before we started recording that there is a registration for that?

Wade Mathews: Right. We ask people to register to participate. You don’t have to. You can practice these protective actions and we encourage you to all the time. But at least once a year we’re asking people to register for the great shakeout in Utah by going to our website,, and there’s a link there, a little button or tab that will take you to the shakeout website where you can register yourself, your family, your neighborhood, your business, your school, whatever the case may be to participate in the shakeout on April 20th.

Last year we reached out goal of having one million participants here in Utah participate in the shakeout last year. We would like to achieve that same goal again this year. We’re about at 700,00, I think we’re approaching 800,000 people signed up so far. We’re only a few weeks away, but there’s still time to sign up.

Lisa Christensen: It’s kind of like Valentine’s Day, how hopefully you are telling your significant other that you love them every day but this is one specific day to celebrate?

Wade Mathews: Yes, exactly. Good analogy there. Right, we want people to be aware of the protective actions. If you don’t know how to survive the disaster, the rest of our plans don’t really matter. So the protective actions are so important for getting through the disasters. And there are different types of protective actions for the different types of hazards that we face. But for earthquakes it’s drop, cover and hold on.

For flooding for example, we have these little catchphrases to help us remember these protective actions. But for flooding it’s turn around, don’t drown, go to higher ground. Get out of and avoid the fast, rushing, high waters. For lightning, which is one of the biggest causes of death in Utah from natural hazards, the protective action is when thunder roars, go indoors. These are just these little phrases to help us to remember what to do to be safe and survive the disasters.

Lisa Christensen: So you mentioned flooding and it’s spring. Let’s talk about flooding. What can people do, especially people who live in areas prone to flooding, do to prepare for a little extra spring runoff?

Wade Mathews: We certainly need to be aware that that’s a possibility all around the state with the high snow pack this year. And we’ve already seen a lot of flooding in Northern Utah. So there’s things that people can do in advance to prepare for flooding. Flood insurance is certainly a good idea to consider. Not very many people have flood insurance and typical homeowner’s insurance doesn’t cover flooding.

Learn how to shut off utilities if flooding is occurring in your neighborhood, you may want to shut the water off to the house so that any contaminated water doesn’t get into the system. If flooding is imminent, start unplugging all of your electrical appliances and moving things to higher elevations if possible, higher floors in the house or things like that.

Shut off the electricity before flooding may be occurring to prevent damage to electronics circuits and things like that. If possible, you might want to start looking at sand bagging possibilities. Some communities may be providing sand bags. You can certainly purchase sand bags at hardware stores and stockpile those if you think that’s something that would help out in your situation.

Lisa Christensen: So it sounds like there are a lot of different things that people can do in a lot of different kinds of disasters. But what are some basic things that people can do for general preparedness?

Wade Mathews: Perfect. We have a mantra here at Be Ready Utah in the Division of Emergency Management. It’s make a plan, get a kit, be informed and get involved. So we want people to kind of do things in all four of those areas. And it applies to all hazards, we try to consider these things all hazards. For all of the different types of hazards you have an emergency plan.

So to begin with, know the protective actions that I’ve talked about already. That needs to be part of our planning. What protective actions do I need to know for the risks that I face where I live? So knowing those protective actions. Having food and water stored is critical. You know, we can’t live without water more than a few days and one of the things that often happens in emergencies and disasters is that power goes out, you know, the wells are not pumping any more. Water sources are being drained or they’re broken and contaminated. Boil water orders may be given. So it’s good to have water stored on hand.

Food, again, even if we’re in a sheltering situation where the weather is bad outside or it may be a pandemic where there’s lots of disease and sickness outside and we just want to stay home. We need to have lots of food and water stored for those types of emergency situations.

Disaster supply kits, another thing to consider for your total preparedness. We used to call them 72-hour kits. They’re disaster supply kits with basically all the things we might need to get us through until help arrives. In other words, food and water, medications, clothing, tools, radio, flashlights, copies of important documents, personal items, extra eyeglasses, contact lenses; people with children, diapers and wipes and formula, toys, a book. So I ask people to personalize their kits. When you’re building your kits, personalize them. If there’s something that you need to be happy, healthy, comfortable every day, put some in your kit. Your favorite type of chap stick or whatever the case may be, have some of that in your kit.

Lisa Christensen: So it sounds kind of like you should be thinking about going on a really lousy vacation for a few days.

Wade Mathews: That could be a good way of looking at it I suppose. The accommodations are not going to be the best after a disaster. We hope that we will be able to stay home, however, you know a lot of times residents, neighborhoods are evacuated and homes might be damaged and people might need to evacuate – another protective action.

Where do they go when they evacuate? Red Cross shelters may be opened up and people can go there, or they may go to a relative or friend’s house outside of the danger area, but if possible we just want to stay home if our home’s not damaged, if the neighborhood isn’t that severely damaged, stay home. You can use your disaster supply kit at home too, or take it to the shelter, or take it to grandma’s house, whatever the case may be. It just has those supplies in it that you need to get through until help arrives.

Lisa Christensen: When people are making that checklist, that plan, what do they need to know about communication?

Wade Mathews: Yeah, good question. There’s three things that people need to consider for communications in a disaster. We don’t know if the phones are going to work or not work, or cell towers and those types of things. Communications is one of the first things we lose in a disaster. And we never know where we might be in a disaster, if we’re going to be together with our family members and loved ones or if we’ll be separated.

So we need to have a communications plan in place which consists of an out-of-state telephone contact – somebody that’s long distance outside of the area that wouldn’t be affected by the earthquake or the flood or the fire that could just sit by the phone and relay messages back and forth as people call in and report in. And everybody needs to know that number and maybe even practice calling every once in a while. They should be a relative or close friend or person that they can trust.

Also, it should consist of a meeting place outside your home. So, for example, if you have a house fire or a flood or an earthquake, everybody gets outside, goes to the meeting place and you take accountability, you count heads and make sure everybody got out safe. Or heaven forbid, if somebody’s still there that might need help, you can get professional help to go and find that person. And then the third is a meeting place outside your neighborhood. So if your neighborhood is evacuated or you can’t get back in, the roads are damaged or something like that, you have another place to meet family members. And it really doesn’t matter where it is, it’s just something that your family chooses and you know where it’s at. It could be the church, the grocery store, your grandma’s house across town, the school, it doesn’t matter just as long as everyone knows where it is. And this provides us peace of mind.

If we know that we can be reunited with our loved ones again, that’s half the battle. We can get through this. If I’ve got my family together I think we’ll be ok. We can get through this. We can start putting our plan into action and working on the other things that we need. So yeah, communication is a very important part of that total family disaster plan.

Lisa Christensen: Ok. Are there any misconceptions that people have about emergency preparedness?

Wade Mathews: Well there’s one specifically related to earthquakes, and that’s everybody seems to think that after an earthquake when we feel the shaking and the house is moving back and forth we need to go out and shut the natural gas off. And that’s not totally true. We only shut the gas off to the house if we suspect a leak. If we can see the broken line, if we can hear the hissing or smell the natural gas in the air, or if our house is badly damaged, shifted off of the foundation or if there’s a fire nearby, then we would want to shut it off. Otherwise, if there’s not that much damage, we don’t have a leak in the house, keep it on.

We still want a furnace in the winter time, we still want hot water for the shower, we still want the stove, if you have a gas stove to work. And if everybody shuts the gas off, how long is it going to take Questar to get around and turn the gas back on? Because we should have a professional turn it back on for us. And it will be a long time if everybody shuts the gas off. So it’s only if you suspect a leak. So that’s one of the most common misconceptions, I think, around emergency preparedness.

Lisa Christensen: Another thing you mentioned before we started recording was that there are a lot of resources available on the Be Ready Utah website. So what can people find there and how can that help?

Wade Mathews: Be Ready Utah is broken down into four pillars basically Be Ready Family, Be Ready Schools, Be Ready Businesses and Be Ready Communities. And under each one of those tabs there are different resources available. Again in those four different areas of preparedness: make a plan, get a kit, be informed and get involved, those are broken down with information and tips, resources and other links. There’s lots of downloadable documents that people can use to help further their emergency preparedness. Again, the whole idea is to get people to take action. We can educate and educate and educate, but until people start taking action it’s not going to do any good.

Lisa Christensen: You’ve worked in emergency management for a long time. Is there anything that you wish people knew or would do, one thing, if they could do one thing, what could they do? Besides go to Be Ready Utah and do all the things that are suggested there.

Wade Mathews: Well that’s a good question. I guess the simple answer would be just pick something. Pick something. We talk about a lot of things and people are aware of these things, but they don’t take action. So kind of assess your situation, find out where your weaknesses are, pick something and do it.

You know, I’ve got a guy that I work with that’s got a little slogan: It’s not too late to prepare until it is. Kind of get that idea there, you know. When it hits the fan, the earthquake has struck, the flooding is here, the wildfire is sweeping through and it’s too late at that time. When the knock comes on the door to evacuate, it’s too late to decide, what am I going to take with me? So we need to start thinking about those things in advance and do those things now.

Lisa Christensen: Ok. Well thank you so much, and we will have the links to those resources on our website.

Wade Mathews: Great, thank you.

Lisa Christensen: Thanks also to Mike Sasich for production help today. You can download our podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Google or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also contact us on social media at @utahbusiness or drop us a line at Thanks for listening.