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QuakeSmart is a FEMA National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) initiative to help businesses in at-risk earthquake communities implement earthquake mitigation actions.

The QuakeSmart Toolkit (FEMA P-811) is available online.

What are Earthquakes and Why Do They Occur?

An earthquake is ground shaking caused by a sudden movement of rock in the Earth’s crust. Such movements usually occur along faults, which are thin zones of crushed rock separating blocks of crust. When one block suddenly slips and moves relative to the other along a fault, the energy released creates vibrations called seismic waves that radiate up through the crust to the Earth’s surface, causing the ground to shake. Earthquakes may last only a few seconds or may continue for up to several minutes. They can occur at any time of the day or night and at any time of the year.

Earthquakes are caused by stress that builds up over time as blocks of crust attempt to move but are held in place by friction along a fault. (The Earth’s crust is divided into large plates that continually move over, under, alongside, or apart from one another atop the partly molten outer layer of the Earth’s core.) When the pressure to move becomes stronger than the friction holding them together, adjoining blocks of crust can suddenly slip, rupturing the fault, and creating an earthquake. In addition to ground shaking, earthquakes can also generate secondary hazards such as landslides, avalanches, surface faulting, tsunamis, liquefaction and flash floods.

How Do Earthquakes Affect Businesses?

Thousands of earthquakes occur in the United States each year; most are too small to significantly affect businesses and communities. However, large and very damaging earthquakes have occurred in the past and could happen again at anytime. Unlike other natural hazards, such as hurricanes and floods, an earthquake is a no-notice event that cannot be predicted. Therefore, it is more important for the private sector and communities to understand their risks, make a mitigation project plan, and take earthquake mitigation actions to ensure safety and stay in business.

Today, businesses of all types and sizes serve as the backbone of every community and the nation’s economic strength. Small businesses alone account for more than 99 percent of all companies with employees, employ 50 percent of all private sector workers, and provide nearly 45 percent of the nation’s payroll. If businesses are unable to continue operations after an earthquake, this could impact effective flow of critical products and services (e.g., food,  medicine, utilities, financial, etc.), limit individual and community livelihood, and significantly delay disaster recovery.

In general, many businesses have invested in emergency management and continuity of operations planning. However, most businesses have not conducted earthquake mitigation measures to protect their assets, staff, and business operations. During an earthquake, buildings—or their components or contents—can be collapsed, toppled, broken apart, tossed around, or rendered inoperable or unusable. The same can happen to lifeline infrastructure systems and their components, including those related to transportation, such as roads, bridges, railways, ports, and airports, and those related to utilities, such as distribution lines for water, wastewater, electric power, telecommunications, natural gas, and liquid fuels. Damage incurred from these hazards, such as broken gas or water pipes, can itself be hazardous, generating further damage by igniting fires or flooding buildings.

Hazards such as structure failure, falling, collapsing, or airborne objects, earthquake-induced fires or flooding, and others can also cause serious casualties. In addition to casualties, individuals can incur direct economic losses, either personal or business-related, resulting from damage to existing property. Businesses can temporarily lose the ability to generate income, due to other business and employment interruptions or terminations brought about by damage to private property or public infrastructure.

What Businesses Can Do

Many businesses understand the concept of emergency management and continuity planning. But these could be complex issues depending on their particular industry, size, and scope as well as their level of risks from natural and man-made hazards. All businesses must account for all of their exposed, relevant hazards in order to reasonably stay in business. Guidance to all-hazards, business preparedness, and continuity exist via, Open for Business®, and Disaster Resistant Business (DRB).

As part of addressing all-hazards, it is critical for businesses to also incorporate actionable earthquake mitigation solutions into their planning and business decisions. By doing so, businesses protect the organization’s assets (people, property, operations); sustain the capability to provide goods and/or services to customers and/or its supply chain; maintain cash flow; preserve competitive advantage and reputation; and provide the ability to meet legal, regulatory, financial, and contractual obligations.

How QuakeSmart Can Help

  • What is Earthquake Mitigation?
    Earthquake mitigation is any action taken to reduce damages or losses to your business, employees, building, and building contents should an earthquake occur. In addition to basic preparedness activities such as creating and exercising disaster plans, preparing disaster supply kits, and knowing how to “Drop, Cover, Hold on,” the private sector must complement these activities by implementing mitigation actions to reduce earthquake risks and further minimize disruptions, damages, and losses.
  • What is QuakeSmart?
    QuakeSmart is a 3-step mitigation process that businesses can easily integrate in their existing or future disaster plans and business decisions:
    1. Identify your risk—When identifying your risks, the initial step is to determine if your business is at risk for earthquakes. This includes identifying if your facility is in an earthquake hazard area. Then you identify your potential vulnerabilities: structure, non-structural components, and contents (hazard + vulnerability = risks).
    2. Make a plan—Based on your earthquake risks, this step allows you to start planning your mitigation projects to address those risks. Making a mitigation project plan means defining a scope of work, budgeting funds to pay for it, and then scheduling the time to get it done. Depending on your earthquake risks and funding, sometimes the budget or schedule will prompt you to reduce or increase the scope. It is part of the planning process to think about your options and make sure you're spending your resources effectively. Your plan doesn't have to be complicated. Its sole purpose is to help you go from thinking about your risk to mitigating it.
    3. Take action—Finally, implement your mitigation project plan and solutions. Nonstructural solutions might be taking the simple step of anchoring a bookshelf or file cabinet to the wall, as well as adding removable straps to secure the shelf's contents, and a safety latch to prevent the cabinets from opening during shaking. Other solutions include securing ceiling fans with cable supports, storing heavy items on floors, installing flexible gas lines to space heaters or propane tanks, installing hook and loop straps to desk-mounted computers, and securing table lamps or fragile collectibles on shelves with museum wax or putty. Structural solutions could include retrofitting unreinforced masonry, installing shear walls, and strengthening the structural frame of your building by creating a continuous load path.

      Without taking these actions, an earthquake may shut down your operations, resulting in lost revenue or worse, the closing of your business. Mitigating your earthquake risk means getting back to business and resuming your operations faster after an earthquake.
Last Updated: 
12/18/2015 - 15:10