Drop, cover and hold on.

Emergency management experts want Utahns to remember these words during an earthquake. More than 870,000 Utahns practiced that response Thursday in the Great Utah ShakeOut.

If you’ve lived in Utah for long enough, you know that parts of the state are long overdue for a historically large earthquake. According to the ShakeOut website, 90% of Utahns live in active earthquake zones, but those who live along the Wasatch Fault are especially at risk.

That’s why schools, workplaces and households joined in the statewide effort to prepare for such an emergency. Participants included schools in Canyons, Granite, Jordan and Salt Lake City school districts, as well as businesses like Macey’s and Ace Hardware.

Canyon View Elementary Principal Kiersten Draper says the school holds emergency drills every month, but earthquakes receive special attention.

“We take them all seriously, but this one could be likely,” she said.

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Parents, staff and students were warned ahead of time that the drill would take place. Fourth grade teacher Emily Weigel even had it written on the whiteboard as part of the class schedule.

Weigel reviewed what the students were to do a few minutes before the drill, demonstrating how to walk along the wall to the nearest doorway if they were caught in a hallway during an earthquake.

The children watched and listened eagerly, asking what-if questions about theoretical disasters and adding what their moms told them, until a rumbling noise played over the loudspeaker and they slid under their desks.

Aside from the occasional excited whisper or curious head popping out, they sat quietly and gripped the metal desk legs for five-and-a-half minutes, until the clamor stopped and they emerged with sighs of faux relief.

Draper said she feels confident that teachers and students will know what to do in the case of a real earthquake. “That is something that they really have in their muscle memory. And since they’ve been doing this from kindergarten on, you know, they do have a lot of practice.”

The school tells parents and students about the drills in advance in case a child has sensory concerns and needs headphones or an extra adult in the room.

Third grader Stormie Ortiz participates in the statewide Utah ShakeOut at Lincoln Elementary School in Salt Lake City on Thursday, April 20, 2023. The earthquake preparedness drill encourages Utahns to practice what to do in the event of a large earthquake. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News

What should I do if there’s an earthquake?

The Earthquake Country Alliance provides seven steps to stay safe during an earthquake. The first four steps are preparatory: securing your space by identifying hazards and securing moveable objects, creating an emergency plan, organizing emergency supplies, and minimizing financial hardship by strengthening your home and considering earthquake insurance.

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Step five is the oft-repeated motto: drop, cover and hold on. If you feel shaking or receive an alert, immediately drop to your hands and knees, wherever you are, to reduce your chance of falling or being hit by flying objects and to protect vital organs.

Next, cover your head and crawl to the nearest desk or table. If there’s no such shelter nearby, head to an interior wall. Keep holding onto something sturdy and covering your head until the shaking stops.

You may have been encouraged to run outside or stand in a doorway when there’s an earthquake, but the Earthquake Country Alliance says these methods are outdated. The Alliance’s website also goes over how to protect yourself in certain settings, like outside, driving or in bed.

Steps six and seven come after the earthquake: improve safety by evacuating and helping the injured, and reconnecting with others and rebuilding what was damaged.

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