Earthquake Emergency Plan

Author: Manu Steens

This contribution provides information for an earthquake emergency plan for managers and employees of your own organization. This includes the measures that an organizational unit and individual employees can take in the event of an earthquake to ensure the continuity of services as much as possible. This can be included in the appendix of a BCP.

In this contribution, I give my own opinion, not that of any organization.

1.         Definition

An earthquake is a tremor or vibrating movement of the earth’s crust.

Earthquakes occur when a lot of energy is suddenly released in the earth’s crust. The energy then propagates in a wave motion from the center to the environment. The imaginary point where the quake originates, the center of gravity of the energy density, is called the hypocenter. The point on the Earth’s surface perpendicular to it is called the epicenter. A line of equal quake intensity around an epicenter is called an isoseist. Seismology is the science of earthquakes. During an earthquake, triboelectric effects occur in the form of flashes of light.

2.         Measures in the context of BC Planning

When an earthquake occurs, the following measures are of great importance: shelter and creating distance.

For each phase, recommendations to buildings, business units and staff are explained in more detail in the paragraphs below.

Phase 1: Advice before an earthquake

Buildings

  • Attach cabinets (such as bookcases and filing cabinets) and shelving to the walls.
  • Mirrors, etc., must be fastened with closed hooks or putty.
  • Things like desk lamps and other things that are on a desk or on a cabinet can become flying objects during an earthquake. Secure them in place, e.g. with hooks, glue, … to keep them in place during an earthquake.
  • Attach electronics that cannot be stored, such as TVs, screens, microwaves, etc. with nylon straps.
  • Systematically repair bad wiring and gas leaks. Have this done by professionals.
  • Install flexible pipe fittings against water leaks and gas leaks.
  • Attach large appliances, such as gas ovens in the kitchen, or printing appliances, to the wall or to the floor with screws. Provide an automatic shut-off of gas with a valve triggered by strong vibrations.
  • Repair deep cracks in ceilings and floors. Have it checked out if they are structural problems.
  • Provide reinforcements to the building’s structure where necessary, such as damaged walls and old chimneys. 
  • Determine safe places in the building, such as under a robust table or against an interior wall. Train people to take shelter there during exercises.
  • Identify other potential hazards in the building and make them safe.
  • Identify weaknesses of the building and do the same.
  • Reinforce overhanging light fixtures.
  • The building coordinator, building manager and the members of the Welfare working group must know how to turn off gas and electricity in the building.
  • When constructing a new building: make sure that the client knows and applies the local legislation and good practices and standards regarding safe construction against earthquakes.
  • Provide a first aid kit in an easily accessible place. Make sure that this place is known to the staff in the building. 

Business units

  • Hold earthquake drills with the staff. (Lie down on the floor, find shelter under a robust table, and hold on to something sturdy, such as the table legs.) (= Drop, cover & hold = DCH technique)
  • Store any chemicals to be used for work in closed cabinets (on the bottom shelves if possible).
  • Provide a first aid kit in your workplace.

Staff

  • Keep you informed about fire safety, evacuation plans and earthquake drills. 
  • Get to know the safe places in the building.  Under a strong table, against an interior wall, away from windows, glass walls, bookcases, tall furniture.
  • Practice the “DCH” techniques in any safe place. If this technique is not useful due to lack of securing furniture, sit next to an interior wall and protect the head and neck with the arms. 
  • Place heavier items on the bottom shelves of cabinets or racks.
  • Store fragile items in glass,… in low closed cabinets with latches.

Phase 2: Advice during an earthquake

Note: During an earthquake, there is a high chance of gas leaks.

Staff

Stay calm and avoid shouting or shouting

Find a place to hide. (cf. DCH technique)

Evacuate if the alarm goes off or if instructed to do so by security personnel.

You are inside:
  • Apply the “DCH” technique. Move as little as possible to get to the nearest place. Stay there until the earthquake is over and you are sure it is safe. Take cover under a table to better protect yourself from falling objects, one will have a better chance of survival if one is trapped under the rubble. If there is no table, look for places that you have predetermined: frame of interior doors, support column, a corner of the room,…. Remove from the windows, window openings and exterior doors, as well as from overhanging light fixtures and cabinets. Only move if you need to remove yourself from possible debris or falling objects.
  • Stay indoors until the earthquake has passed and it is safe to go outside.
  • Do not use elevators, use the stairs, as aftershocks may occur, electricity may fail, or other damage may occur.
  • Know that the electricity may fail, and the sprinkler systems and fire alarms may be triggered.
You are outside:
  • If possible, remove yourself from buildings, street lamps, and utilities.
  • Find a safe place and lie down on the floor. Stay there until the earthquake stops. In a city, this can be impossible, and you have to go inside a building to shelter from falling debris.
When in a moving vehicle:
  • Stop the vehicle in a safe place in a safe manner. Stay in the vehicle. Do not stop under bridges or near trees, level crossings and utilities. 
  • Continue driving carefully once the earthquake has passed. Avoid damaged locations, damaged bridges, roads, level crossings, driveways, etc.
  • If an electrical cable has fallen on the vehicle, stay in the car and wait for help. Don’t get out.

Phase 3: Advice after an earthquake (short term)

Buildings

  • Keep an eye out for small fires and extinguish them. Never use fire or matches near a damaged building or area.
  • Check the building for damage, evaluate it and evacuate staff if it is unsafe.
  • Immediately clean up wasted/spilled chemicals, such as medicines, oil, bleach, flammable liquids, …
  • Have the staff leave the area if you smell gas, fumes or chemicals.
  • Inspect the chimneys along their entire length for damage. Undetected damage can cause a fire.
  • Inspect utilities.
    • Check for gas leaks. If you find any, open the windows where possible and let the staff go outside. Turn off the gas supply. Only have it put back on by a professional.
    • Check for damage from electrical cabling and electrical systems. See if it gives off sparks. Check to see if you smell melting insulation. Turn off the electricity with the main switch. Watch out for puddles of water when you need to do so. Ask for IT’s approval.
    • Check the drain lines and water lines for damage and breaks. If necessary, avoid using your own toilets. Contact the water supplier and avoid using the water from the tap.
  • If the personnel is at the assembly point, they must be immediately kept away from anything that could fall below (covered area, lighting poles, trees, buildings, etc.).
  • Ensure that staff does not attempt to re-enter the premises.
  • When to go back inside? The building coordinator must consult the competent discipline (Fire Brigade).

Business units

  • Listen to a radio (battery-powered) for the latest emergency news and communicate it to your staff
  • Check if the phones of your services are working. Listen for a dial tone.

Staff

If you’re stuck under the rubble
  • Don’t light a fire, don’t light a match.
  • Move as little as possible, don’t stir up dust.
  • Cover your mouth with a handkerchief or clothing.
  • Hit a pipe or a wall so rescuers can hear you and save you. Use a whistle if one is available. It’s best not to shout, unless it’s a last resort. Shouting can make you inhale an excess of dust.
When the earthquakes stop
  • Look around to see if there’s a safe way out, and go outside. Make your way to the designated assembly point in case of evacuation in the event of a fire
  • Prepare for aftershocks. These are usually less strong. But they can cause additional damage. When you feel aftershocks, reapply the “DCH” technique.
  • Check yourself for injuries and get care before helping others. Do the same for others. If you have had first aid training, it is best to apply it and offer help.
  • Only use the phone for emergency calls. Communicate further with SMS or chat over the internet.
  • Use caution when operating a vehicle after earthquakes, and anticipate the failure of traffic lights.
  • Open the cabinets carefully, watch out for the contents to fall.
  • Beware of damaged power cables, or gas lines
  • Leave the area if you smell gas, fumes or other chemicals.
  • Help people who need special care, such as people in wheelchairs or pregnant women, children and the blind.
  • Keep animals (e.g. guide dogs) under direct control.
  • Stay away from damaged places unless your assistance is required, e.g. by police, fire brigade or other emergency services.
  • Do not go home until the competent authorities allow it for safety reasons.

Manu Steens

Manu works at the Flemish Government in risk management and Business Continuity Management. On this website, he shares his own opinions regarding these and related fields.

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