Ready or Not? Preparedness In Iron County

By Dawn M. Aerts

Iron County Today

CEDAR CITY–It’s true that Iron County and Cedar City are nestled along the Wasatch Front Region, where earthquakes or wildfires can erupt or stay silent. Experts say there are 215 surface faults in southwest, Utah, not all of them hazardous, to include high risk and low risk variables.

“It’s the geographic area you’re in, that will often determine the risks,” said John Higley, of natural and man-made disasters, and it’s the first 96 hours you will need to be prepared for.

If you visit Higley, Emergency Management Coordinator (EMC) Iron County, you’ll notice his office is well-arranged and organized — full of what you might describe as essential information for his job, and the supplies one would generally need for rudimentary survival.

He is part of a Five-County (strong) strategy focused on public information, with a full entourage of professionals and agencies who organize, plan, train, coach, and periodically, conduct drills to address a wide-swath of potential or likely emergencies.

In fact, it’s Higley’s job to prepare for the worst: for unpredictable times with actions that work. “The emergencies your family may face – from wildfires and flooding, to earthquakes and power outages are among the most important issues to consider in deciding what goes ‘in the bag,’” said Higley of his special mission.

A well-built emergency ‘bag’ includes ample water, non-perishable food items, flashlight and tea candles, a whistle and dust mask, solar chargers, and a list of miscellaneous — from prescriptions, and first aid kit, to scissors and matches. He urges people to look into FEMA, the American Red Cross, or the CDC to consider their checklists.

Over the past 30 plus years, Higley has spent much of his life responding to countless emergencies, or dealing with high-risk variables. As a retired Fire Chief from Mesquite, Nev., a long-time firefighter and paramedic in Provo; he has invested years of training in CPR and Safety issues – as a full time police officer and in his work with Rescue Teams.

“Essentially I have three missions,” says Higley of the Iron County office, “To make county government more resilient; to help (local) business become resilient and, to ensure that families are ready for local, regional or (any sort of) family disaster.”

“It’s never too soon to build your (family) go bag,” says Higley of the bright red bag that sits at the ready in one corner.

Higley’s job is a daily mix of preparations and planning. “In this part of the State (country) there are a variety of issues to consider, from fires that destroy parts of mountains, to the timber and debris that move quickly with rains or flash flooding.” In Cedar City, he was surprised to learn that ‘prairie dogs’ were one, among other unique sets of concerns.

He knows that the Hurricane fault runs through Cedar City, that the old buildings along Main Street have masonry that could crumble in significant earthquakes and that residents need be prepared.

“But if anything keeps me up at night, it would be the issue of power outage, or the potential for food and gas shortages,” says Higley, “Of course there are parts of government that would continue to function (police and fire departments) but businesses, and a lot of agencies and homes would not have access to power, or emergency generators to rely on.”

Higley views a short or long term power outage as both an inconvenience and a blow. “There are some people who are reliant on power for life-sustaining devices,” says Higley of (hospitals) the elderly or disabled. “So we have to look at this questions, can we as a community, continue to operate? Can business still function? Are we ready as families to subsist?”

It’s those questions that motivate Higley and a cadre of law enforcement, emergency personnel and medical professionals to train and drill. He suggests there are always some miscalculations in the system. “I’ve heard so often, ‘Hey, it’s not going to happen to me! No, not here! So I have to worry about the ‘unpacked’ emergency kits and the still pending recovery plans.”

Higley says that a community is only as strong as its weakest link so it’s up to us to prepare for those risks. “Then people also have to think, well what will we do if there are no services, and businesses are closed? What do you do if the grocery store goes empty, gas stations (shut down) or the pharmacy (can’t operate)?

It’s those kinds of questions that Higley continues to ask.

Emergency experts recommend that families should prepare to (independently) subsist up to 96 hours, or for four days. And, while disasters may range from natural to man-made, it’s Higley’s job to prepare for them all.

For instance, “We know that the I-15 corridor handles all kinds of traffic, and there’s the potential for hazardous spills, says Higley, “And there’s the issue of what to do in the case of a house fire – a gas leak? And what is your escape plan?” While most experts are confident that government, agencies, and (or) churches would rapidly step in to assist – it wouldn’t be immediate.

There are a huge set of options and guidelines for the community to prepare. “We have a Fire Department that takes kids through a detailed home for fire drills; and a CERT Team who trains regularly for potential disaster. There are presentations among agencies and all kinds of drills,” explains Higley.

“So, is your family ready; do you have an escape plan and a safe place to meet?”

Two of the most important tools in Higley’s (box) of ‘emergency plans’ is a state-of-the-art phone application that downloads information to an iphone or mobile device; and more recently, public access to the ‘Citizen Alert System’ – a (time-sensitive) registry system that both notifies, sends messages and provides direction.”

“I would say these are two important (technology) features that anyone can now access and use,” says Higley of his role to coordinate and bring all the resources available, together. “Resiliency and being prepared begins with each individual and family – If we can take care of ourselves,” says Higley of his bag, “Maybe we can help others too.”

For a complete set of emergency preparedness tips, guidelines and suggestions, go to ready. gov; American Red Cross; Centers for Disease and Control Prevention (CDC). Or for more information, call the local Emergency Manager, 435-267-1740.

Photo Caption: John Higley, local Emergency Management Coordinator, urges families and community to prepare, plan and pack a ‘go bag’ or recommended 96 hour-emergency-kit that will ensure their resilience in the face of disasters, from fires and floods to earthquake or power outage.


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