Unlike hurricanes and some other natural hazards, earthquakes strike suddenly and without warning. Nevertheless, if the business that you own or work for is located in a region at risk for earthquakes (visit Your Earthquake Risk), there are many things that can be done to reduce the chances that those who work in or visit the premises will be injured, that property there will be damaged, or that your day-to-day operations will be unduly disrupted by an earthquake. These activities all fall under the concept of preparedness, because to be effective, they must be done before earthquakes occur.
Preparing for earthquakes involves (1) learning what employers and employees should do before, during, and after earthquakes; and (2) doing or preparing to do those things now, before the next quake. Workplace preparedness requires the participation of owners, managers, and workers, as well as those who design, build, regulate, and maintain buildings used as workplaces.
Before the Next Earthquake
Following are activities that can be undertaken now:
Prepare Your Facilities
Make your buildings safer to be in during earthquakes and more resistant to earthquake damage and disruption. Depending on when and how they were designed, built, and furnished, existing buildings may have weaknesses that make them more vulnerable to earthquakes.
Check with your local building-regulatory agency to find out whether, and for how long, structures in your area have been subject to building codes containing seismic design provisions. Facilities constructed before adequate provisions came into effect may have structural vulnerabilities.
It is also important to know whether and for how long local seismic code provisions have addressed nonstructural building components. Nonstructural items include utility systems and architectural elements (e.g., light fixtures, suspended ceilings, windows, partitions), as well as furnishings, supplies, inventory, equipment, and other building contents.
Nonstructural seismic weaknesses can be as or more dangerous, costly, and disruptive as structural vulnerabilities. Any nonstructural items that are not effectively anchored, braced, reinforced, or otherwise secured could become safety hazards or property losses in an earthquake. Design and construction professionals are needed to properly secure some of these components, while others can be made safe by maintenance staff or other employees.
Earthquake risk-reduction measures can range from inexpensive methods of securing building contents to expensive structural modifications. The mix of measures that is optimal for your facilities will depend on factors such as the potential severity of the earthquake hazards in your locale, the current condition of your facilities, whether your workplace is owned or leased, and how vulnerable your operations are to facility damage and associated downtime. Visit QuakeSmart for information about how to assess your facility risks and how to develop and implement a plan to cost-effectively mitigate those risks.
Making buildings safer can be more affordable and less disruptive when done incrementally. See the following FEMA publications for guidance:
- Incremental Seismic Rehabilitation of Office Buildings (FEMA 397)
- Incremental Seismic Rehabilitation of Retail Buildings (FEMA 399)
- Incremental Seismic Rehabilitation of Hospital Buildings (FEMA 396)
- Incremental Seismic Rehabilitation of School Buildings, K–12 (FEMA 395)
- Incremental Seismic Rehabilitation of Hotel/Motel Buildings (FEMA 400)
For specific methods for reducing risk associated with nonstructural earthquake damage, see Reducing the Risks of Nonstructural Earthquake Damage—A Practical Guide, Fourth Edition (FEMA E-74).
Prepare Your Workforce to
- React Safely
Every employee, from top managers to part-time and temporary workers, needs to learn What to Do During an Earthquake. Safety orientations should emphasize safe places to "drop, cover, and hold on" during earthquake shaking and safe locations where people can rendezvous when the shaking has stopped and it is safe and advisable to evacuate your facilities.
Hold periodic, mandatory earthquake drills to give employees opportunities to practice what they have learned and condition themselves to react spontaneously and safely when the first jolt or shaking is felt. To help protect workers in the immediate aftermath of earthquakes or other disasters, arrange for employees to be trained now in first aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), and the use of fire extinguishers. Earthquakes should be thoroughly integrated into the organization’s emergency preparedness, response, and recovery planning.
- Help the Organization Survive a Damaging Earthquake
Elements that are critical to ongoing business viability vary from one organization to another. They may include, for example, locations, equipment, telecommunications, supply chains, stored data, or employee knowledge or skills. A prepared workforce is one that has identified the elements that are important to its operations; made plans for protecting, reconstructing, duplicating, or surviving without these elements; and been adequately trained to carry out these plans in the event of an earthquake or other contingency. Visit Ready Business for more information on business-continuity and contingency planning.
In the days following an earthquake, employees are more likely to be able to come to work and perform effectively if they are less worried about or preoccupied with their families and homes. They should be encouraged to prepare their homes and families in advance for earthquakes and other emergencies (see Earthquake Safety at Home).
Prepare Your Community
It makes good business sense for employers to contribute to the well-being of the communities from which they recruit employees, clients, and customers. There are many ways that businesses, acting either individually or collectively through organizations such as local chambers of commerce, can help strengthen the disaster resilience of their communities. Some of these ways include serving as local exemplars of organizational preparedness; promoting preparedness among suppliers, clients, and other business contacts; and sponsoring or participating in local earthquake drills, preparedness events, or awareness and education campaigns. Visit QuakeSmart for more ideas.
During the Next Earthquake
When earthquake shaking begins, it is time for employees to immediately apply what they have learned about What to Do During an Earthquake. Reacting promptly and safely reduces your chances of being injured.
After the Next Earthquake
Once the shaking stops, workplaces should be prepared to implement prearranged, earthquake-specific emergency response and recovery plans. Employees must keep in mind that aftershocks may strike at any time, exacerbating hazards created by earlier shaking and requiring that everyone again drop, cover, and hold on.
Regardless of the severity of this earthquake, learn from the experience. If there are things that your organization could have done better in preparing for this quake, do them better now in preparation for the next earthquake. If structures must be repaired or rebuilt, for example, use this opportunity to ensure that weaknesses are addressed and that new facilities are compliant with seismic building standards. If building contents were damaged, improve how such items are secured. If employees were insufficiently prepared to react safely, increase safety training and the frequency of drills.