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Thousands of Utahns dive for cover during Great Utah ShakeOut earthquake drill

WEST JORDAN — Seven-year-old Liv Saltzgiver penciled in numbers on a math worksheet with her classmates Wednesday morning at Heartland Elementary School. But when the crack of the intercom sounded, it was all pencils down.

“I stop what I’m doing and hurry under my desk so nothing will hit me when it falls,” she said, well-prepared for the day's earthquake disaster drill. Saltzgiver said knowing there is a plan helps her to feel safe.

“They know all the whys of practicing this drill,” said Laura Neral, Saltzgiver’s first-grade teacher, who taught her students to drop, cover and hold on in such an event.

Heartland Elementary was one of many organizations that participated in the Great Utah ShakeOut Wednesday morning. More than 860,000 people registered for the drill, according to Joe Dougherty, Public Information Officer for the Utah Division of Emergency Management.

“This kind of turnout really shows that Utahns care about preparedness,” Dougherty said.

Students are instructed to listen for noises in the building, before they head outside to line up and be accounted for, said Heartland Principal Shelly Davis.

For Lucinda Webb, parent and member of the school safety council, fire drills bring a measure of comfort to parents, knowing that chaos won’t ensue.

At 10:15 a.m., Bill Summers, the Spanish Fork Macey's store director, announced to all his customers that the grocery store was participating in the Utah ShakeOut. “We followed safety procedures, checking the gas shutoffs and power lines. It’s just something you don’t think about.”

Marty Shaub, managing director for environmental health and safety and emergency management for the University of Utah, called Wednesday “a beautiful day to conduct the drill here on campus.”

Shaub said the university set up a medical triage at Rice-Eccles Stadium and implemented a newly developed system that accounts for the 50,000 students, teachers and administrators.

The Salt Lake Chamber participated, celebrating with shakes afterward, according to Heidi Walker, chief operating officer of the Salt Lake Chamber.

“We’re due about every 350 years for an earthquake, and it’s been 350 years, so the odds of it happening in Utah are about one in 200 per year,” said Tim Petterson, a product specialist for Emergency Essentials, an emergency preparedness company.

Dougherty said that each year presents a learning opportunity.

“A lot of people getting down under their desks for the first time realize that they might not fit under there so well,” he said. “Many rearrange some things, or move heavier objects to lower shelves.”

Dougherty suggested people should buy a flashlight to keep at a work desk and get in the habit of looking for emergency exits.

Those unable to participate Wednesday can still be participants in the ShakeOut: For more information, visit and for emergency tips and advice, see

Rachel Lowry is a reporter intern for the Deseret News and an English graduate from Brigham Young University. Contact her at