It has been weeks since the Great Virginia Earthquake of 2011 but we Easterners are still talking about it. While our West Coast friends laughed at us for our naiveté as we stood around wondering what to do in an earthquake. Afterwards, many associations and businesses scrambled to get their employee handbooks and disaster recovery plans updated. Of course it will probably be another 100 years before we have another earthquake but I’m all for being ready.
However there is still a lot of misinformation about what to do in an earthquake. Do you or don’t you get under heavy furniture? Do you sit against an inside or outside wall? When do you leave the building? And so on. So being a risk manager I did some research and decided to rely upon the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the American Red Cross (Earthquake Safety Checklist) for the best information. Both of these sources focus on protecting your home but the same tactics apply for businesses.
Before the Earthquake
You can take some preventive measures to reduce the damage from an earthquake by securing large objects and latching cabinets. Most were lucky with pictures knocked over but the National Cathedral suffered millions of dollars worth of damage.
According to FEMA, What to Do Before an Earthquake, first check for hazards in your home (or office) and find safe places. You should have emergency supplies, a communications plan and work with your community for earthquake preparations. Historically, the earthquake causes some damage but the greater risk is fires from broken electrical and gas lines. In the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake fires from broken gas pipes and electric lines caused most of the damage. Therefore you need to know how to shut off the utilities in your home and office building.
- DROP to the ground;
- Take COVER under a sturdy table or other furniture;
- HOLD ON until the shaking stops;
- Stay AWAY from glass, windows, outside doors and walls, and anything that could fall, such as lighting fixtures or furniture (bookcases, file cabinets, large pictures, etc)
- Stay inside until the shaking stops and it is safe to leave the building.
After the Earthquake
FEMA’s suggestions are to get to a safe place, expect aftershocks and listen to radio, television or social media channels (I added that one) for the latest emergency information. Cell phones and landlines become inoperative quickly so rely upon text messages to communicate. Also the American Red Cross has its Safe and Well website where you can register that you are safe and well. You can also search for other registrants. Many people use their Facebook pages as a check-in site so decide within your family how you will communicate after an earthquake.
If you can and it is safe, help injured or trapped people and administer basic first aid. Also check for hazardous materials such as chemicals, bleach, gas and gasoline. If you can safely clean up the spilled materials do, otherwise keep others away from the dangers.
A little preparation goes a long way whether it’s an earthquake, hurricane or fire. Make your plans for your home and family as well as your business and office. When people know what to do it improves their chances of surviving a disaster. Take the time now to make your plans.