Fire department to train and prepare for looming disaster

Lt. Col. Steven Fairbourn, Utah National Guard public affairs officer, instructs fire and police officers on the procedures for the Vigilant Guard exercises to take place on Nov. 3.

PROVO — Consider the hypothetical looming disaster everyone’s been afraid of for years: Utah County is hit with an earthquake.

If it strikes Provo, the Provo River Dam might break, which could result in flooding or even water poisoning. Apartment buildings that dot the Provo cityscape could collapse and injure or kill many. And this is on top of the immeasurable damage that can happen to other structures, roadways, parks and other features of Utah County.

So, what if?

Preparation is key should such a disastrous event take place, and the Provo fire and police departments are planning ahead. On Monday, the Provo Fire Department will work with several other Utah agencies, including the National Guard, in the Vigilant Guard Utah event.

The Vigilant Guard event is a response exercise aimed at helping various agencies know better how to respond should an earthquake hit Utah Valley. The scenario is that after a 6.0 magnitude earthquake hits, there will be minimal damage throughout the valley. Another earthquake then hits the valley with a magnitude of 7.0, causing greater destruction from Layton to Nephi. This level of damage requires additional emergency personnel.

Monday's exercise will not just involve forces from inside the state.

“We’ll have outside-the-state National Guard groups coming in being parts of different teams as well, which would be very realistic in an emergency like a major earthquake,” said Captain Dean York of the Provo Fire Department.

Agencies throughout the state will be participating in the event with various “incidents,” as York said. In Provo, York said the hypothetical incident will involve a train derailment.

“We’ll be using railcars at the Utah Fire and Rescue Academy,” York said. “They were super gracious to let us come in and use those cars.”

It’s interesting because come training day, York said the rail yard can’t just shut down for training exercises. It’s still a working day, which means there will be live lines and live tracks and a potential for injury. But with the rail cars being at the academy, it removes that risk while still allowing officers to complete their training.

The training exercise will not involve criticism on whether or not officers performed certain functions correctly. Rather, it’s a chance for agencies to see how to work together to respond to emergencies.

“It’s an exercise where you get to know the other players in the game, how to get those players there, and then working for the common goal of solving the problem,” York said.

York said the Vigilant Guard exercises have gotten easier each time for the agencies involved.

“Things get better as you practice,” he said. “Any time you see a face you know from a previous drill, it’s easier to make those connections and things just go smoother.”

York said the exercises should not cause any public alarm -- after all, they are just training.

“If you see people in chemical suits ... that’s always a possibility, there’s no alarm,” York said.

There will also be training exercises in Nephi, where a temporary shelter will be flown in for the public to see.

York said should such a situation ever actually happen in Utah Valley, it’s important for every household to be prepared as well.

“It’s always good to have your emergency kit at home in case of an earthquake,” he said. “You have to be prepared to help yourself for that first 72 hours and to help your neighbors.”

Kurt Hanson is the Breaking News and Courts reporter for the Daily Herald. He can be reached (801) 344-2560 or khanson@heraldextra.com. Follow him on Twitter: @kthehanson.

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