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At 4:48 a.m. Saturday, a 6.5 magnitude earthquake shook Mountain Town, USA, damaging roads and homes, knocking out power and cell phone service, and causing flooding due to a water main break.

By 6 a.m., the governor had declared a state of emergency, and volunteers and relief organizations were working to set up shelters, distribute resources and provide medical care to the injured.

"We've lost our daughter," said Grace McMullin. "Roads are down. Phones are down."

Of course, there is no Mountain Town, and there was no earthquake at 4:48 a.m. In fact, it was a little after 10 a.m., at the Unified Fired Authority Station 123 in Herriman, and McMullin was looking for a daughter who doesn't exist as she participated in a community disaster simulation with her real father, Brandon McMullin.

Saturday's indoor simulation was sponsored by disaster-preparedness experts with Be Ready Utah and Salt Lake County's CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) Coordination Council.

"Try to embrace your character," organizer James Ray told the group of roughly 100 participants as the simulation began. "Have fun with it."

Those characters — with names like Kenny Rogers, Stephen Curry and Walker Texas Ranger — were divided into three groups: survivors, volunteers and those in community and government roles that kept the simulation running.

At 15-minute intervals, survivors and volunteers would open envelopes with new instructions and attempt to complete various tasks by checking in at shelters, hospitals and food banks.

As new information became available, Herriman resident Mike Weist and Sandy resident Teresa Reese would hold mock news conferences as governor and mayor, respectively. And an organizer would periodically tie new strands of caution tape to block the path around and between parts of the room.

"We're trying to do as close to a live event as we can," said organizer David Chisholm. "If the event comes, they're not going to be so surprised. They'll have some background."

Participants were instructed on where to gather in the event of an emergency, like elementary schools or other community locations, and were cast in various roles to mimic the types of coordination and response that occur after a crisis.

Ray, a state Citizen Corps coordinator, said interactive exercises like the simulation are "more effective than passively listening to someone talk at you about preparedness."

Renee Schiffler completed her tasks while wearing ear plugs, in order to simulate the impaired hearing of her character Maggie, while her husband Roland carried a doll as a stand-in for their hypothetical child Brittney.

"I think this is a good thing to do, to experience," Schiffler said. "This is all pretend and it's all fun, but when it really happens I think it's going to be a lot more chaotic."

Sandy resident Tony Hunter was assigned the character of Stephen Hawking, a high school student from a neighboring city who had rushed to Mountain Town to help after the earthquake.

"If we're under 18, they may limit us to carrying water," he said while filling out a faux volunteer registration form.

Hunter said he had received CERT training in the past, and saw a value in events like Saturday's simulation.

He said he didn't know if the experience would help in a real crisis, but it probably wouldn't hurt.

"Any practice is good," Hunter said. "It's tough to simulate an earthquake but it's better than nothing."

Twitter: @bjaminwood

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