Is Your Business Prepared for an Earthquake?

for Business Owners

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Are you Prepared to be Safe in an Earthquake and Rebuild After?

Did we panic or was instinctive wisdom that kicked in?   

We were in an old building downtown Seattle when the earthquake hit on February 28th, 2001. On the second floor of a 27-floor building built in 1928, getting out seemed like the best option.  So about 75 co-workers bolted down the stairs.

Like a scene from a disaster movie, as we ran down the two flights of stairs the cracks in the walls were chasing us downward while we stayed just ahead of it.  We got outside the building and ran away from it, to a parking lot across the street to get as far from buildings as we could.  I now know that what we did flies in the face of most experts’ advise for what to do in an earthquake.  There exceptions, especially in older concrete buildings.  Seek the advice an expert for your individual circumstances.   By the way, the “wall cracking” as we ran down the stairs turned out to be just the plaster. But it was scary at the time.

To the best of my recollection, we had never had a drill or any training on what to do in the event of an earthquake.

Do you know what your company will do in the event of an earthquake?  What do you do in the moment? Do you evacuate the building? Hide under desks? What do you do when it’s over?   Are you prepared to assist your employees or neighbors if it’s a severe quake?  Do you have emergency supplies of water, food, medical supplies?  Do you have back up power and communications in place?  What is your plan for continuing to do business in the aftermath? Do you have decision making process to determine if you should?

On June 6th the City Bellevue conducted an earthquake simulation exercise.   This drill scenario was a 6.6 magnitude earthquake along the Seattle Fault Zone.  For a more detailed account of the drill I suggest this article in the Bellevue Reporter by Evan Pappas .

Curry Mayer, the emergency manager for the city of Bellevue described some of the priorities for the city staff that were practiced in the day long drill.  Communication between departments and key personnel and pre-planned/trained action teams were deployed. The key here is they were all trained in advance on what they needed to do. 

The City of Bellevue has a bigger responsibility that most businesses because they are responsible for emergency services for all in the city.  That said most business owners I know have sense of responsibility to keep employees, customers, and neighbors safe.  Below are some tips to get started on planning for what do to in the event of an earthquake. 

One aspect of this preparedness is rebuilding.  Whether business is interrupted, or you literally need to rebuild or repair your buildings, making wise decisions in advance on how you will fund the rebuilding is important.  Most commercial insurance policies do not cover a loss in the event an earthquake.  In fact, the insurance contracts specifically exclude earthquakes as a covered loss.   You can add earthquake insurance as part of your policy or in a separate policy depending on your situation and how the carrier structures their contracts.  

Reach out to me to evaluate your insurance contracts and help you decide if earthquake coverage is the best fit for you.

The questions to ask yourself is this.  What will impact my business more, paying the extra premium for earthquake coverage or not having the funds to rebuild if my building and/or business is impacted by an earthquake?   My suggestion is that we uncover the facts to be able to answer this question. I am here to help you.

 Here are some good risk management best practices for earthquake preparedness. 

Earthquake Awareness Information and Pre-Event Planning Steps

Pre-Event Planning Steps

Look for items that could become a hazard in an earthquake:

      Repair defective electrical wiring, leaky gas lines, and inflexible utility connections.

      Bolt down water heaters and gas appliances. Have an automatic gas shutoff device installed that is triggered by an earthquake.

      Place large or heavy objects on lower shelves.

      Fasten shelves to walls.

      Brace high and top-heavy objects.

      Store bottled foods, glass, china, and other breakables on low shelves or in cabinets that can fasten shut.

      Anchor overhead lighting fixtures.

      Check and repair deep plaster cracks in ceiling and foundations. Get expert advice, especially if there are signs of structural defects.

      Install flexible pipe fittings to avoid gas or water leaks. Flexible fittings are more resistant to breakage.

      Know where and how to shut off electricity, gas, and water at main switches or valves.

      Hold earthquake drills.

Identify danger zones in each area of your building—near windows where glass can shatter, close to bookcases or furniture than can fall over, or under ceiling fixtures that could fall down.

Locate safe spots in each building area under a sturdy table or against an inside wall. Reinforce this information by physically placing yourself and others in these locations.

Train your employees to follow the guidelines on the following pages during and after an earthquake.



During and after the Earthquake


During the Earthquake

  • Stay inside until the shaking stops and it is safe to go outside. Most injuries occur when people are hit by falling objects when entering or exiting buildings.
  • Drop, cover, and hold on! Minimize your movements during an earthquake to a few steps to a nearby safe place. Stay indoors until the shaking has stopped and you are sure exiting is safe.
  • If you are indoors, take cover under a sturdy desk, table, or bench—or against an inside wall—and hold on. Stay away from glass, windows, outside doors or walls and anything that could fall, such as lighting fixtures or furniture. If there isn’t a table or desk near you, cover your face and head with your arms and crouch in an inside corner of the building. Doorways should only be used for shelter if they are in close proximity to you and if you know that it is a strongly supported load-bearing doorway.
  • If you are outdoors, stay there. Move away from buildings, streetlights, and utility wires.
  • If you are in a moving vehicle, stop as quickly as safety permits—and stay in the vehicle. Avoid stopping near or under buildings, trees, overpasses, or utility wires. Then, proceed cautiously, watching for road and bridge damage.

After an Earthquake

  • Be prepared for aftershocks. These secondary shockwaves are usually less violent than the main quake but can be strong enough to do additional damage to weakened structures. Each time an aftershock occurs, drop, cover, and hold on.
  • If you become trapped in debris:
  • Do not light a match.
  • Tap on a pipe or wall so rescuers can locate you.
  • Do not move about or kick up dust.
  • Use a whistle if one is available.
  • Cover your mouth with a handkerchief or clothing.
  • Shout out only as a last resort as shouting can cause you to inhale a dangerous amount of dust.
  • Check yourself for injuries. Protect yourself from further injuries by putting on long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, sturdy shoes, and work gloves.



  • Check others for injuries. Do not attempt to move seriously injured persons unless they are in immediate danger of death or further injury. If you must move an unconscious person, first stabilize the neck and back, and then call for help immediately.
  • If the victim is not breathing, carefully position the victim for artificial respiration, clear the airway, and start mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
  • Maintain body temperature with blankets. Be sure the victim does not become overheated.
  • Never try to feed liquids to an unconscious person.
  • Look for and extinguish small fires. Turn off the gas only if you smell a leak. Remember, it may take weeks or months to restore your gas service if you turn it off unnecessarily.
  • If the electricity goes out, use flashlights or battery-powered lanterns. Do not use candles, matches, or open flames indoors after the earthquake because of possible gas leaks.
  • Wear sturdy shoes in areas covered with fallen debris and broken glass.
  • Listen to the radio for instruction.
  • Use the telephone only to report life-threatening emergencies.