According to RIMS, after you’ve completed your assessments, strengthening and retrofitting vulnerable buildings is the first step you should take in preparing for a quake. (Credit: SDubi/Shutterstock) According to RIMS, after you’ve completed your assessments, strengthening and retrofitting vulnerable buildings is the first step you should take in preparing for a quake. (Credit: SDubi/Shutterstock)

It can be easy to forget earthquakes are a threat. While there are 20,000 earthquakes each year, in some areas they happen so sporadically that decades can pass between major quakes. When they do strike, however, they can cause devastation that leaves customers, agents and claims professionals alike scrambling to clean up the mess. With earthquakes, as with most things, the best offense is a good defense, and a recent white paper from RIMS addresses the best ways to prepare for seismic activity to minimize your risk and damage when things get shaky.

Assess your risk

There are a variety of assessments that can be used to determine, and therefore mitigate, risk when it comes to preparing structures for earthquakes, the white paper explains. These include desktop assessments, site assessments, remote risk assessments, third-party peer review, damage assessments, business continuity planning and CAT modeling. The key to any of these assessments is to find structural engineers you trust, preferably with experience in earthquake risk mitigation, to help you discover what you can do to best prepare your buildings.

Strengthen vulnerable buildings

According to RIMS, after you’ve completed your assessments, strengthening and retrofitting vulnerable buildings is the first step you should take in preparing for a quake. They recommend reducing the weight of the structure by replacing heavy cladding with lighter materials or even reducing the number of stories in a building. They also advise buildings that are especially vulnerable be reclassified as storage structures or abandoned in place.

Anchor or brace building contents

While your grandma’s vintage Precious Moments collection may be an inevitable casualty during an earthquake (because it isn’t particularly practical to glue down all of your knick-knacks), it’s imperative that items that are tall, heavy or unsteady, like furniture and shelving, be secured so they don’t topple and cause more damage to the structure or any nearby people.

Develop an earthquake emergency response plan

Do you remember the surprise earthquake drills you were forced to do in grade school? While it may have seemed silly to us as children to practice climbing under our desks and covering our heads, schools practice these drills so that when an emergency actually happens, everyone automatically knows what to do to stay safe, even if they’re panicking. This is the same way you should handle your earthquake emergency response plan. According to RIMS, in addition to making sure everyone knows your emergency plan well, you should also designate personnel who have the authority to carry out your plan. The white paper also recommends response teams be prepped beforehand with manuals, and receive annual training about shut off and restart procedures.

Identify the location for an emergency operations center (EOC)

After an earthquake, you’ll need somewhere safe for the purpose of evacuation and having a place to sort out the aftermath of the event. It’s important to pinpoint this location prior to an emergency and, just like your emergency response plan, be sure everyone who may be in the building is aware of where to go after a quake. RIMS also recommends you store your emergency equipment, including tools, food and water, in strategic locations throughout your EOC.

Establish formal agreements for priority services

After an earthquake, it’s likely contractors, engineers, inspectors and the like will be spread pretty thin. To avoid waiting ages for inspections, utility restoration and repair after an emergency, create agreements with these providers now so you already have services established if disaster strikes.

Conduct annual training on earthquake scenarios

As discussed earlier, drills, practice and training are essential to ensure everyone is on the same page and can act almost automatically if the earth starts to shake. Annual training on safe places to shelter and how to effectively cover your neck and head should be conducted so everyone is thoroughly prepared if they must act.

For more information on earthquake risk assessment and mitigation, you can download the white paper from RIMS here.

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Brittney Meredith-Miller

Brittney Meredith-Miller is assistant editor of PropertyCasualty360.com. She can be reached at [email protected].

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