Emergency Preparedness and U: Handling Utah’s Earthquakes


Curtis Lin

Snowy mountains in Salt Lake City | Chronicle archives

By Eliza Pace


Most Utahns have felt the effects of COVID-19 with graduations postponed, classes moved online, public parks and areas closed and more.

Then in the midst of all this, on March 18 at 7:09 a.m., Magna and the greater part of Northern Utah were hit by a 5.7 earthquake. While the earthquake caused limited damage, and no injuries were reported, the greater effect was that of anxiety.

In light of recent events, many students began to think a little more seriously about their emergency preparedness. But for college students, that can be difficult.

“College students are in a unique situation. They don’t have large living spaces. They don’t have income. They don’t generally store a lot of food,” said Kris Hamlet, director of the Division of Emergency Management. “This makes them vulnerable, but not completely unprotected.”

Now, almost a month after the earthquake, Hamlet and Jeffrey Graviet, the director of emergency management at the University of Utah, offered information on the best ways you can be prepared in an emergency as a college student. 


Prepare a Food Supply

Preparing a food supply is something most college students struggle with. Limited funds and small spaces make food storage difficult, but Graviet and Hamlet offered some simple solutions that don’t have to be excessive.

“Be prepared with at least 16 ounces of water and 1200 calories,” Graviet recommended. 

That’s an easy food supply students could carry in their backpacks. Many students have a reusable water bottle they could refill in multiple locations across campus, and 1200 calories could be three or four protein bars or your favorite snack. That way, students have more capability if they’re stuck on campus and a way to take care of themselves until responders can resupply them.

“When you go to the store, buy a couple extra cans of food that you like. Do this a little bit at a time,” Hamlet said. “You can even store extra cans of food under your bed. Do the same with a case of water bottles. Keep it under your bed or on the floor of your closet.”


Sign up for Campus Alert

Found under your CIS account, Campus Alert is a text system for students, faculty, and staff that sends information straight to your phone in the case of an emergency.

“We need people to … provide us with a cell phone number because that’s our fastest way to provide mass communication,” Graviet said. “You will get an email. But email is slow. An email is not as dependable as a text message.”

The biggest problem? People don’t register their phone numbers to get these texts.

“We run into a little bit of an issue with about 6,000-10,000 of our students, faculty and staff that choose not to provide us with a cell phone number,” Graviet stated. “We want that cell phone number. And we don’t sell it. We don’t use it for marketing. We don’t do anything other than test the system and provide emergency alerts.” 

Along with this alert, Graviet explained that you’ll receive updated information that will provide guidance for what to do and where to go. In the event of an emergency, the U has a website, constantly updated with chronological events within that particular crisis. The website is made to handle hundreds of thousands of hits without crashing and has successfully done so up to this point.

“We’re always trying to give our student body and our academic community awareness of what’s going on around them,” Graviet said.


Get Educated Ahead of Time

By definition, emergency situations are completely unplanned for. Preparing yourself and reading up on the best ways to respond to different types of emergencies is the best way to help yourself later on.

Last month’s earthquake was the first many Utahns had experienced, and they responded differently.

“Because this earthquake was felt by so many Utahns, and this was a new experience for them, we understand that more than a few didn’t react the way we hoped,” Hamlet explained. 

“Through social media, we learned that many people got out of bed and ran to a doorway or ran to their children. Moving around during an earthquake is not a good idea because it puts you at risk for being hit by falling or flying objects. If you are in bed during an earthquake, you should stay there. If you’re somewhere else, you should get under sturdy furniture. We call it drop, cover and hold on.”

Earthquakes can’t be predicted, and the U lies along the large Wasatch Fault, which means this will likely not be the only time residents confront an earthquake. The time to prepare and learn earthquake procedures is now. 

The “U Heads Up” app provides the information from the U’s emergency website, including different procedures for each type of emergency. This can be a resource for any type of emergency, but many people within the university community are likely unaware of its existence.

“We’re constantly encouraging new students, or faculty and staff to download U Heads Up,” Graviet told me. “Once you download it into your phone, you no longer need the internet to have the protective actions in your phone — it stays loaded in the U Heads Up app. Then every time we update it, we just send out a push, and it updates the information.”

This app contains an emergency response guide that provides access to quick, protective actions that you can take in a fire or if you see a suspicious package, or if there’s an active shooter. It will train you and give you the information to act in any circumstance.

“Certainly you don’t want to be reading up on protecting actions and an earthquake in the middle of the earthquake, right?” Graviet said. “However, if you’ll do a little bit of reading before, and or even if you can remember, ‘Oh, I’ve got that on my phone, even after the earthquake, I can pull that up. And it might remind me to do a few things.’”

The university has several emergency procedures in place. They ask all of their faculty and staff to have 72-hour kits and have emergency supply caches throughout campus. These caches are in five locations — Rice-Eccles Stadium, the S.J. Quincy College of Law, the Marriott Library, the Spencer Fox Eccles Business Building and the Student Life Center.

“What’s unique about all of these locations is they’re all new construction. So they’ve got the best chance of survivability,” Graviet said. “They’re also large buildings that can house hundreds, maybe thousands of people.”

Graviet went on to explain that these buildings also have generators, showers, bathrooms and many even have kitchens, making them a convenient place to shelter. In the wake of a disaster, students would be displaced from their classrooms to a shelter, until arrangements are made for transportation to get them home to their local jurisdiction.

“Our goal if we have a major earthquake is to try to get our students, faculty and staff off campus within 24 hours,” Graviet said.

In the wake of COVID-19 and an earthquake, we might all feel a little more motivated to prepare and get the information and training we need to face the future with confidence.

“Is there room to improve? Absolutely, but we hope that as people take steps to prepare for emergencies, they will share those steps with their friends and neighbors,” Hamlet said. “The key is for people to start making emergency preparedness a regular part of what they do every day or every week.”


[email protected]



Editor’s note: Signs and symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, dry cough, tiredness and shortness of breath. These symptoms are believed to occur between two and 14 days after a person is exposed to the disease. If you have these symptoms and have recently come into contact with a person who is known to have COVID-19, or if you have recently traveled to an area with community spread of the disease, you should call your doctor. Areas with community spread of COVID-19 are believed to include China, South Korea, Italy, Iran and Seattle. If you do not have a doctor who you visit regularly, please call the Utah Coronavirus Information Line at 1-800-456-7707 or the University of Utah Health hotline at 801-587-0712. Do not go to a healthcare facility without first making arrangements to do so.