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Local hospitals and emergency agencies prepare for the big one

PROVO, UTAH (September 9, 2011) -- Did you feel that? Probably not, as it was only a drill. However, for several local agencies, a 7.9 earthquake will affect the Wasatch Front at 2 a.m. on Saturday morning. Agencies from Utah County will come together to test plans on how a local hospital would be evacuated if it were damaged in a natural disaster.

"This is one of those emergencies we have to plan for," said Exercise Coordinator Jan Rogers, Utah County Health Department (UCHD). "We often think about an earthquake effecting our homes and places we work, but after the shaking stops new problems can arise that local agencies might have to address. Structural damage is obviously one of those."

"We are excited to bring so many partners together," said Rogers. "All seven county hospitals will be playing. Utah Transit Authority (UTA) and United Way Para transit will be moving patients to the hospitals. American Fork, Provo, and Orem cities' emergency responders will play a part along with County Sherif's office and local public safety. Then there will be the hundreds of volunteers from the community to act as victims and Utah Department of Health will be providing make-up for the volunteers. We are thrilled so many are coming together to participate."

Rogers said the Saturday exercise is to test plans of what would happen if Timpanogos Regional Hospital was damaged. "The scenario is that the hospital, while not collapsed, has received significant enough structural damage that an emergency evacuation is necessary." Timpanogos Regional Medical Center will be sending "patients" to American Fork Hospital, Mountain View Hospital, Orem Community Hospital, Utah Valley Regional Medical Center, Utah Valley Specialty Hospital, and Utah State Hospital.

Ruthann Jarvis, Timpanogos Hospitals education director and emergency planner, said, "The thought of having to move all our patients is daunting, but something we have to think about. We would release as many patients as we could to go home, but obviously there are those who would need to be moved to another medical care facility. That is why these partnerships and exercises are so important. No one agency or hospital system could handle it all."

"Our hospitals would already be strained dealing with earthquake victims," said Robin Ebmeyer, Intermountain Healthcare emergency management coordinator. "The goal of this drill is to bring together all the partners that could help."

Utah County Medical Reserve Corps will also be providing volunteers at different hospitals to alleviate the strain of incoming victims. Utah County Medical Reserve Corps is a volunteer agency comprised of medical and nonmedical volunteers. The organization is always seeking new volunteers to educate, verify, and train to aid Utah County in the response of emergencies.

"On the eve of the 9/11 anniversary, it is important to remember we all need to be prepared," said Rogers. "Government and private agencies are working to do their part, but each of us needs to prepare ourselves and our families for emergencies both natural and manmade."

For further emergency preparedness ideas and plans, please see www.BeReadyUtah.gov or the UCHD Emergency Preparedness www.UtahCountyHealth.org/BeReady. To Volunteer for Utah County Medical Reserve Corps during local emergencies please see www.ucmrc.com.