emergency operations

Cache County Executive David Zook points out areas that need help in an emergency simulation on Wednesday morning.

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Say that a 6.5-magnitude earthquake just hit Cache Valley. Power lines are down, cell service is disconnected and major roadways are blocked off and flooded. What should you do?

Over the past four days, the Cache County Emergency Operations Center has participated in an emergency drill meant to simulate a natural disaster. In this scenario, Cache Valley experienced a disastrous earthquake and the epicenter was only a couple of blocks away from Utah State University.

Officials and representatives within Cache County gathered to figure out what would need to happen in the event of a major emergency. A representative from the Fairgrounds gathered lost horses, while USU Extension and Agriculture helped feed displaced animals. Red Cross and FEMA sheltered residents across town, while Dispatch located those who were hurt and in need of services like EMS, fire and police. The County sheriff and fire chief worked to get their services to collapsed buildings. Elected officials wrote and released an emergency declaration, and County Executive David Zook held a mock press conference to get information out to the general public. He also spoke with Gov. Spencer Cox to request additional aid for the valley.

Cary Jenkins, GIS administrator, expressed his excitement in getting to use the in-house system created in 2017 with others from Weber County. They built several maps to test and figure out how data received would fit into those maps for decision makers to view.

“There were a few areas we needed to work on,” Jenkins said. “We need to get the map to everyone so they can see it at their own desk. Other than that, it was pretty decent and worked well.”

“If I could turn cartwheels, I would do it,” said Will Lusk, emergency manager for Cache County. His responsibilities include helping the Sheriff’s Office, elected officials and residents prepare for emergency situations. “The smile on my face is just a small portion of the immense satisfaction I feel seeing all these people working together to solve a problem. It’s important for them to come together to practice this, because you never know when the real thing might happen.”

Lusk stated it’s important to develop “response muscles” by performing exercises like this to prepare for the real possibility of disasters.

Cache County’s emergency drill is performed annually. Towns such as North Logan, Logan, and Nibley participate as smaller joint information centers to communicate with other areas to receive need or help from those who weren’t affected.

USU also has their own information center and a representative working with the county for better communication between the two. The county emergency operations center has radio experts to communicate between the joint information centers as well as direct damage and cleanup.

FEMA Training Specialist Doug Kahn is responsible for traveling across the country to help municipalities train first responders and operation centers how to react in emergency situations. Drills like this allow counties and towns to be aware of things they need to look out for, such as funding, equipment, volunteer support and so on. Only about a dozen of these special drills are approved by FEMA officials annually. Khan worked closely with Lusk on the course for the past seven months.

“Cache County has been doing amazing,” Khan said. “It’s been a great process.”

Zook said drills like this are important because emergencies will happen and authorities need to be prepared.

“One of the number one roles of local government, if not the most important role, is public safety, and we need to make sure we are prepared to keep our community safe,” he said. “If we are trained, prepared and our staff knows what to do when a situation like this occurs, we will be able to better respond and keep our community safer.”

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