Lessons from the Field: Earthquake Preparedness Tips for Businesses

That rumbling recently felt across North Dallas this month was not the result of millions of Dallas Cowboys’ fans stomping their feet in celebration of the team’s first playoff berth since 2009. Perhaps surprisingly, it was the tell-tale sign of earthquakes.

Actually, earthquakes are not unprecedented in the Lone Star State. There have been more than 120 in North Texas since 2008, according to Southern Methodist University. All have been considered small, with the largest occurring in 2013 at magnitude 3.7. Before that, an earthquake large enough to be felt had not been reported since 1950.

This recent “earthquake swarm” has Dallas-area residents on high alert. Texas Mutual encourages everyone to learn how to protect themselves and their families during emergencies such as earthquakes. But don’t forget that we spend most of our waking hours at work. A little planning now can help protect you and your employees in the event of an earthquake, however unlikely it may seem.

Before an earthquake
Employees won’t have time to think during an earthquake. If you prepare them now, they are less likely to panic and act unsafely:

  • Know your risk: Unlike hurricanes and some other natural disasters, earthquakes strike suddenly and without warning. That’s why it is important to determine if your business is in a high-risk area. Contact your local emergency management office, American Red Cross, state geological survey or department of natural resources for specific information about your community’s risk.
  • Make an emergency preparedness plan: A solid emergency preparedness plan can help mitigate the panic that often accompanies disasters. Every employee should know exactly what to do during an earthquake, fire, tornado, power outage or other emergency. Don’t forget to make accommodations for employees with disabilities and other special needs.
  • Practice the plan: Regularly scheduled drills help you evaluate your emergency preparedness plan’s effectiveness, clarify employees’ roles and reveal holes in your plan that you need to address. Post-incident critiques often confirm that experience gained during exercises was the best way to prepare teams to respond effectively to an emergency. For a guide to conducting earthquake drills, click here.
  • Prepare your facility: On one end of the spectrum, facility preparation includes securing light fixtures, suspended ceilings, window partitions, furnishings, supplies, inventory and equipment that can become flying objects during an earthquake. On the other end, it includes evaluating your facility for structural weakness that could be vulnerable during an earthquake.

During an earthquake
Emergency preparedness plans are like umbrellas. It’s comforting to know we have them, but we hope we never have to use them. If an earthquake does strike, you will be glad you taught your employees these generally accepted best practices:

  • Drop, cover and hold on. Emergency response experts agree that this technique reduces the chance of injury and death during earthquakes. Teach employees the procedure, and include it in your practice exercises.
  • Stay away from windows to avoid being injured by shattered glass.
  • Be aware that fire alarms and sprinkler systems frequently go off in buildings during an earthquake, even if there is no fire.
  • Stay inside until the shaking stops and it is safe to go outside. Do not exit a building during the shaking. Research has shown that most injuries occur when people attempt to move to a different location inside the building or try to leave.

After an earthquake
So, you think the earthquake is over. Now what? Your instinct might be to immediately flee, but experts advise caution:

  • When the shaking stops, look around to make sure it is safe to move and there is a safe way out through the debris. Then, exit the building, but use the stairs, not the elevator.
  • Expect aftershocks. These secondary shockwaves can occur in the first hours, days, weeks or even months after the quake. Drop, cover and hold on whenever you feel shaking.
  • Check for injuries, and provide assistance if you have training.
  • Help people who need special accommodations and may not be able to evacuate on their own.
  • Be careful when driving after an earthquake, and anticipate traffic light outages.

More information
For more information on preparing your home and your business for earthquakes and other emergencies, visit these organizations’ websites:

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