Earthquakes Happen Where You Least Expect

While the seismic risk in North America declines significantly as you move away from the West Coast, earthquakes have a way of striking where they’re not expected. Buildings in Miami recently shook from a 7.7 magnitude earthquake between Cuba and Jamaica. Virginia was not considered earthquake country until 2011, when it experienced a 5.8 earthquake that was felt all the way up to New York City.   And the less-well-known Madras Fault threatens cities throughout the Midwest and central US.

All buildings need to be prepared for earthquakes. As we saw in Miami, Virginia, and New York, building occupants in unprepared regions tend to respond in dangerous ways. Running out of buildings during and immediately after an earthquake poses a high risk of injury and death from falling glass and masonry.  Sheltering in place near the core of a building is the safest response, but this is poorly understood outside of the West Coast. Earthquake response procedures need to be part of all life safety training programs.

After a significant earthquake, building staff must be ready to respond on their own, with no outside help, for hours or possibly days.  Fire departments and 911 call centers will be overwhelmed. Nearby roads may be impassible.

Building occupants will be looking to building staff for leadership – dealing with injuries and fatalities, determining where and how long to remain in the building, allocating limited supplies.

Building staff need to be prepared to quickly conduct a full building systems inspection that can run to 20 or more steps. Fuel leaks, hazardous material spills, gas leaks, flooding, elevator entrapments, loss of power, loss of water – these are all routine fare after a significant earthquake. Staff must be cross trained on shutting down utilities. They need to understand when a shelter in place must transition into an evacuation.

Tenants and building staff should keep emergency supplies on hand, including food, water, and basic search and rescue tools. Federal guidelines want all occupants to be able to remain inside their workplace for up to 72 hours, however that timeframe can stretch to 14 days in high-risk seismic zones such as the Pacific Northwest. The supplies needed for even a 24-hour stay is very different from what will be needed for a few hours, especially in colder regions. Buildings that experience broken windows and a loss of power (both common after significant earthquakes) will see indoor temperatures drop to outdoor temperatures within a few hours.

Earthquake preparedness does not need to be costly or time consuming – a few basic steps go a long way toward an effective response.  The four key components of a solid earthquake preparedness program are:

  1. Updating the facility’s emergency response plan
  2. Stockpiling supplies
  3. Training and cross training building staff
  4. Educating building occupants

For questions or help upgrading your emergency response program, contact AK Preparedness at