How BYU students can prepare for natural disasters

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Dani Jardine
BYU student Christopher Bradshaw organizes food storage in his pantry. (Dani Jardine)

Seventy-two hour kits and food storage are fundamental to the emergency preparedness principles The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and BYU promote. Yet community members and students can go beyond these suggestions to increase their preparedness for an emergency.  

Preparedness is the difference between a natural hazard and a natural disaster, according to BYU geology professor Ron Harris.

“A hazard is something we cannot change,” Harris said. “Living on the Wasatch Fault is a hazard, but we can change whether there’s a disaster. If you’re ready when a hazard happens, it’s not a disaster. If you’re not ready, it’s a disaster.”

While Harris believes an earthquake along the Wasatch front would be the most devastating natural hazard to occur in Utah County, it is not the only possible disaster situation. Extreme weather conditions, including severe snow storms and lightning storms, as well as power outages, are events more likely to occur and disrupt people’s lives.

Provo City Emergency Management Director Chris Blinzinger advises students and residents to have preparedness materials and information to support their efforts in an emergency.

“The simple things of a kit, the knowledge and a plan — those are all simple concepts that will better prepare (students) in an incident that requires some modification of daily life,” Blinzinger said.

BYU students can register for the university’s “Y-Alert” Emergency Alert System as well as Utah County’s emergency notification system. The two alert programs are separate entities, and one may have information available to students before the other during an emergency.

Married BYU students Christopher and Laurie Bradshaw contribute to their emergency food storage and preparedness materials by purchasing additional items when their budget allows for it. But the space restrictions of student housing limit their efforts.

“You shove all the big things you’re not going to use frequently into a corner or alcove somewhere and just bring out the things you are going to use more frequently just closer to you so you have easier access,” Christopher Bradshaw said.

While space is often a limitation for students, it is still important for them to make their housing situation safe, no matter how crowded or spacious it is.

Harris says the best form of preparedness, especially in the event of an earthquake, is to secure household items. For under 50 dollars and two hours of time, anyone can ensure the safety of their space, according to Harris.

“There needs to be more of an emphasis on securing the things in your apartment or inside your home,” Harris said. “Seventy percent of injuries (during an earthquake) come from non-structural problems like microwaves flying, refrigerators moving, big bookshelves falling.”

Students living on- and off-campus face similar difficulties and can benefit from having individualized plans. However, the university is directly responsible for students living on campus during an emergency and offers support to them.

Jillian Argento
BYU Director of Dining Services Dean Wright tours the warehouse where fresh food and ingredients are stored for dining providers on campus. (Jillian Argento)

BYU Dining Services Director Dean Wright said his operation will primarily allocate resources to students in Helaman Halls and missionaries in the MTC during an emergency. Neither of those groups have access to much storage or cooking facilities. 

“In an emergency, the university command post will take over,” Wright said. “We will do what they direct us to do. Our role is to make sure they have the information of how we can support them.”

Dining Services does not keep food storage. The fresh food it has on hand would be rationed in the case of an emergency.

Students are vulnerable in emergency situations because small living spaces don’t allow for much storage, and those who are not local to Provo may not be entirely familiar with the area. While these factors may be crippling in an emergency, millennials’ reliance on technology has the potential to be more devastating to their preparedness, Harris said.

“Technology gives us a false sense of security,” Harris said. “Because we feel we’re more connected, we feel safer. None of this stuff is going to matter (in a disaster). Your phone is going to be worthless; your computer is going to be worthless.”

Knowing one’s immediate contacts by memory or having a physical contact sheet would be important if technology were to go down. Even becoming more familiar with the surrounding areas outside of Provo can help combat reliance on a GPS system.

Students can feel more comfortable in their preparedness efforts with extra precautions. But with Provo’s most dangerous potential hazard being an earthquake, there is more that can be done to prevent a disaster situation.

In 2016, the Working Group on Utah Earthquake Probabilities forecasted a 43 percent chance of a 6.75 magnitude earthquake or greater along the Wasatch Front in the next 50 years. Harris said to truly be prepared for an earthquake on the Wasatch Fault, Provo residents must focus on ensuring safety in their living quarters through prevention efforts.

“There needs to be more of an emphasis on securing the things in your apartment or inside your home,” Harris said. “Seventy percent of injuries (during an earthquake) come from non-structural problems like microwaves flying, refrigerators moving, big bookshelves falling. That is easy to correct in less than two hours for 50 bucks per house.”

Harris also serves as the founder and director of In Harm’s Way, a nonprofit organization that teaches people about prevention as opposed to emergency management. In Harm’s Way focuses on forecasting natural hazards and their likelihood in certain areas, communicating with people in areas with high risks and implementing prevention with the help of community members.

The more people are equipped to handle an emergency situation, the more Provo’s resources can be applied to those in critical need during a disaster, according to Blinzinger.

“Don’t take the matter lightly. It’s something (students) need to take action on and do,” Blinzinger said. “It is your responsibility. There are people who will be harmed, hurt, injured or unable to help themselves, and that’s where we step in. But we really put the responsibility on every person that lives in this city to have plans in place.”

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