This past week southern California residents experienced two large earthquakes with powerful aftershocks. The first being a 6.4 magnitude and the second at 7.1 magnitude caused havoc – triggering buildings to sway, roofs to collapse, and roads to shut down after tremors cracked sections of roadway.
Risks Caused by Earthquakes:
Earthquakes present one of the highest risks to tenants and property owners due to the inability to detect them nor predict their magnitude. This makes it impossible to provide a warning to employees to seek shelter or avoid a certain area as would be the case with other emergencies such a severe weather activity or a tsunami. Even though earthquakes are low probability events they can have catastrophic consequences causing serious injury or death to building occupants, and disruption of operations. Even moderate earthquakes can cause serious injury if non-structural components are unsecured.
Managing Earthquake Risk:
In order to calculate risk, it is important to understand the hazard itself and the impact it can have on the organization by analyzing building and operational vulnerability. Following identification of the risk, risk reduction strategies can be put in place to lower the vulnerability. Risk reduction can take on many forms including engineering solutions to address building structural and non-structural components as well as organizational preparedness by establishing policies and procedures, delivering staff training, and frequently exercising those policies.
Communication is frequently quoted as the most failed process during emergency response. Earthquakes add an additional obstacle by increasing the chance of disrupting normal communication pathways, emphasizing the need to have a back up system in place, that is regularly tested. Staff must be ready to engage the system, know their roles and responsibilities as well as understand escalation procedures for incident notification. All of these activities are components of an Emergency Management Program (EMP).
Organizations typically have various programs in place to meet regulatory requirements and business standards. There are also instances when a verbal culture of preparedness is in place that heavily relies on the knowledge and competence of the existing staff. An Emergency Management Program is meant to formalize a verbal culture of preparedness and build on programs that are already in place.
Lowering the risk presented by earthquakes is an example of a collaborative approach to program management. It would require analyzing all existing mitigation and preparedness measures to ensure they work in cohesion with each other and build on the culture of safety and preparedness.
For instance, if there is a strong business continuity program in place it would allow for the organization to rapidly resume its operations allowing staff an ability to return to work in a timely manner. The business continuity program can include a mass communication system with regularly delivered training that would make it possible to account for staff safety and communicate service resumption strategies. These strategies can be implemented by the members of the Fire Warden team, while they are assisting with the evacuation needs of the staff on site.
A holistic approach must be taken to evaluate organizational Emergency Management Program for its ability to meet staff and business needs following an earthquake and ensure that any revisions will foster a resilient environment.
Earthquakes have proven time and time again that they are unpredictable and can strike with enough force to bring buildings down. Having a safety plan and being prepared are essential.
Stop, cover and hold on are three very important steps to remember during an earthquake. If shaking begins, drop down, take cover under a desk or a table and hold on. Stay indoors until the shaking stops and only exit when you know its safe to do so. Stay away from bookcases or furniture that can fall on you.
It is imperative to keep a supply of canned food, up to date first aid kit and water. If you are unsure as to what your emergency safety kit should include, click here.
Worried about your organization’s preparedness during an emergency? Learn more about PalAmerican’s emergency management & business continuity services
Written by Paladin Security Group Manager of Emergency Management and Business Continuity, Katie Subbotina. Katie joined Paladin Security in 2016, bringing with her experience, skills and expertise that enrich the Group’s Specialized Services. She has attained her Master’s Degree in Emergency and Disaster Management from York University and holds a number of Emergency Management of Ontario certificates, including Incident Management System (IMS) 100, 200, 300, Exercise Program Design (EM 125) and Basic Emergency Management (EM 200).
During her Master’s Degree, Katie focused her research on various aspects of first responder health, and successfully completed a Major Research Project titled, “Health Risk Analysis of Internationally Deploying First Responders,” which was selected for a presentation at the 6th International Conference on Building Resilience in Auckland, NZ. Her thesis is now available in print through a Springer publication. Katie regularly presents at various national and international conferences, allowing her to stay current with emergency trends and standards in Emergency Management. In 2019, she was elected as the President of the Ontario Association of Emergency Managers, where she has been a member of the board of directors since 2014.