OGDEN -- Principals and specialists knew they had been called to an Ogden School District meeting Wednesday to talk about earthquake preparedness in schools.
What they didn't know before the meeting started was that they would be given a catastrophic scenario and be asked to work through the first-responder steps to secure the safety of students.
"We have a major earthquake every 350 years, and we are now at 350 years," said Donna Corby, OSD spokeswoman. "I was a Southern California girl, and a 7.0 earthquake is huge. It brings down buildings."
A quake of that magnitude in Ogden would cause $16 billion in damages and force 57,000 people out of their homes, Corby said, adding that a minimum of 3,000 would be injured, "most from things falling on people."
Corby then outlined the fabricated scenario: At an Ogden High School night basketball game, attended by high school students, elementary schoolchildren, a group of young disabled students and members of the general public, a 7.0 earthquake would hit. It would happen in winter, and the snow-loaded gym roof would fall in, landing on the crowd and the floor.
"You are the first responders," Corby told the group. "Now go."
Briefly stunned, the school and district officials began to discuss what to do.
Priorities were, first, get as many mobile children as possible out, to an area determined to be safer; second, go back for the injured, if possible, and do whatever was possible to help them; and third, secure the property, begin to document the damage and take steps to keep people from re-entering dangerous areas.
The principals, district officials and police officers assigned to the high schools discussed the best procedures if students needed to be moved to a more secure location.
Ogden Police Officer Ron Ball mentioned that area churches had agreements to provide safe haven in times of serious need and noted that both Ogden and Ben Lomond high schools are near churches.
The group discussed safety supplies that are stored in each classroom and in buildings near the high schools, as well as the locations of phone land lines with alternate power sources.
Ball told the group that an earthquake would be likely to take out cellphone towers, but texting is sometimes possible even when voice calls are not.
A large part of the debate was on when to release students and to whom.
Some suggested releasing students only to parents or guardians of record. Others argued that if one family agreed to take neighborhood kids, the kids might be safer leaving.
Still others argued that allowing teens or younger children to leave at all might put them in the path of greater danger, either because of downed power lines, gaps in roads or more dire conditions at home.
Sheltering in place makes more sense, some suggested.
All agreed that signing out students to their parents, after checking student names off lists, would be the best-case scenario. But at a sporting event like the one described, there would be no lists and it could also be hard to stop people from leaving.
Ball said arranging for safe shelters was the duty of city, county and state government over the long term, and that schools would be responsible only for the initial response.
All agreed they would be giving procedures more thought, as well as double-checking preparations already in place.
The meeting was part of the district's preparation for the Great Utah Shakeout, an event scheduled for 10:15 a.m. April 17, when schools and government agencies will practice their reaction to an imagined 7.0 magnitude earthquake.