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Preparing for the Unexpected: Earthquake Preparedness

Posted on Mon, Oct 03, 2011

Companies cannot pick which disasters to plan for.  Although some natural disasters can be predicted, such as a hurricane or wildfire, no one can be certain when or where a natural disaster may occur. Hurricanes can cause tidal surge, wind damage, power outages, and coastal flooding. However, no one could have predicted the extreme 100-year flooding in land-locked Vermont that resulted from Hurricane Irene.

Planning for the unpredictable is part of emergency preparedness. Earthquakes usually strike without warning and leave no time for personal protective actions. However, if the seismic action is a prolonged shaking and rolling event, it is prudent to immediately take protective measures.

While the initial quake may be unpredictable, aftershock activity typically accompanies most earthquakes. The following procedures should be implemented in the immediate aftermath of an earthquake, particularly within the vicinity of a pipeline system.

Inside a building:

  • Remain calm and clear-headed. Remember that even major earthquakes generally last less than 60 seconds.
  • Move quickly away from windows, tall fire cabinets, and other things that could fall on or crush you. Watch for falling plaster, light fixtures, and other objects.
  • Shelter yourself by getting under a table or desk.
  • Protect yourself by putting your head as close to your lap as possible, or kneel down and protect your head.
  • Do not try to relocated to a doorway if you are able to shield yourself under a desk.  Heavy industrial doors can cause damage when they swing during an earthquake and trying to maneuver through falling debris can cause more injury.
  • Do not attempt to leave the building. You are much safer to remain still inside the building until the shaking stops.
  • If necessary or directed, exit the building after the shaking stops.

Outside a building:

  • Seek protection away from buildings. Falling glass, power lines, and debris can be very hazardous.
  • Once it is safe to do so, contact Supervisory personnel

Post Quake Actions:

  • Do not attempt to move seriously injured persons unless they are in immediate danger of further injury.
  • Be prepared for additional aftershocks. Although most of these are smaller than the main shock, some may be large enough to cause additional damage.
  • Check for fire or fire hazards from broken electrical lines or short circuits, and follow the fire response procedures if a fire is discovered or can reasonably be expected.
  • Advise management of your location, damage, and and injuries. They should advise the employees of the next steps to take.
  • If available, listen to media coverage to determine the location and strength of the quake.
  • Shut down the potentially affected pipeline section(s).  Continuously monitor the static pipeline pressures to ascertain the mechanical condition of the pipeline.
  • Physically inspect pipelines and facilities for signs of damage.
  • If damage is found, report finding to management.  Repair efforts shall be undertaken and completed prior to start up of the pipeline.
  • Relocate company vehicles out of garages and structures, if  applicable.
  • Secure any shelving, and inspect on-site stock.
  • If hazardous conditions are present, initiate emergency response procedures.
  • If no damage is found, continue to maintain the shutdown condition and continue to monitor the static pipeline pressures.  Management should assess the conditions and concur on the start up timeline.

The actual ground movement in an earthquake is seldom the direct cause of death or injury.  Most casualties result from falling objects and debris because of the shocks. However, earthquakes can damage sensitive infrastructure and generate vibrations that can shake, damage, or demolish buildings, each of which can cause great damage. Being prepared for the unpredictable may not be able to save infrastructure, but can limit the effects on the greatest assets, a company’s workforce.

For tips and best practices on designing a crisis management program, download Best Practices for Crisis Management.

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Tags: Earthquake Preparedness, Emergency Preparedness, Crisis Management, Incident Management, Facility Management, Emergency Management Program