earthquake_safety_office_tall_building.jpgEarthquakes have been in the news lately, what with the earthquakes in Chile and Haiti causing such massive destruction, and the 6.0-magnitude quake that rocked Mindoro yesterday and sent a milder tremor shaking through Manila.

Quakes are unpredictable—they are caused by sudden expulsions of energy from the Earth’s crust, which causes seismic waves. Any earthquake measured with a magnitude of 7 or higher may cause serious damage over large areas—the Haiti quake was measured with a magnitude of 7.0, and the Chile quake was 64 times stronger with a magnitude of 8.8.

The Philippine Islands are located in the Ring of Fire, which means that the likelihood for seismic activities such as volcanic eruptions and earthquakes is stronger than other areas around the world. And the damage potential of any major earthquake, added to the fact that these cannot be predicted, makes preparedness crucial to survival, which is why it is important to take precautions against earthquakes at home and at work and to know the dos and don’ts should the ground suddenly start shaking.

Earlier this month, Female Network published an article about earthquake safety in the home . Here are some tips for ensuring the same type of safety in the office:


PRE-QUAKE PRECAUTIONS

Because there isn’t a “forewarned is forearmed” factor for earthquakes, unlike typhoons or, to some extent, volcanic eruptions, it’s best to make sure that your workplace is in tiptop shape for surviving a shaker.


Report any structural damage you notice.

Seeing cracks in your building’s walls, posts, or ceilings may not seem like a major problem to you, but even small cracks, when there are many of them, can weaken the building. At the very least, they can cause part of your building’s finishing to fly off the walls or fall from the ceiling during a quake, which can cause injury if anyone gets hit by the debris. While time will always result in some wear and tear, you should still report structural damage to your building administrator—or tell your boss about these so he or she can contact the building admins on your office’s behalf. These should be repaired as soon as possible.


Make sure your building is checked after earthquakes, typhoons, etc.

Minor quakes, typhoons, floods, and so forth can cause damage as well—or make existing damage worse—so it’s the administrators’ responsibility to check the building thoroughly after an incident such as this. These checks may be announced or done silently; you may want to make sure your office requests to be notified any time these building checkups occur.


All employees should be made aware of safety measures and escape routes.

Building administrators should have clearly posted escape routes and regular fire and earthquake drills. Employees should be alerted as to the particular measures for the building they’re in. Note that the safety measures for earthquakes and fires are different. Every company should make sure everyone working for it knows what should be done in each event. Don’t know? Contact your human resources or administrative department and request this information.

Every floor should have at least one “disaster kit,” which includes a first aid kit, a battery-powered radio (for which the batteries should be checked regularly for draining), and flashlights. More than one is ideal, especially for buildings with large floor areas. And of course, employees should know how to use these things—there’s no use having a radio to call for help if no one knows how to turn it on.

You should also know which areas are safer than others; for example, you would do better taking cover against an interior wall or one made of concrete than an exterior one or one made of plaster or light wood.


Know how earthquake-proof your building really is.

Technology has progressed to such a point that buildings can be engineered to be almost earthquake-proof. The problem is that buildings with this technology may cost more to build, and the cost for retrofitting older buildings to follow these standards is even greater. Thus, you may want to take the trouble to find out whether your building was engineered to stand earthquakes. Older buildings may not be as safe as newer ones—and not just because of the damage time inflicts. They may simply have been built before some of the conventions for building structures that won’t break with the force of an earthquake were made known or popular.

Then again, it isn’t always just a question of technology, but structure. Square buildings that are shorter and stouter will do better than taller and “thinner” buildings.

To read more about “earthquake-proofing” buildings, or at least doing so as much as possible since there is no such thing as a 100 percent earthquake-proof structure, check out this article on CNN.com.


Organize your office supplies and furniture to minimize earthquake hazards.

With earthquakes, it’s not the shaking that kills, but the things that fall off high places and hit people. Thus, heavy objects should be stored closer to the floor, and large furniture and appliances like shelves or refrigerators should be bolted to the floors and the walls. Items like books, files, boxes, and magazines should never be stored so high that they can topple over and seriously injure someone nearby. If you notice that your office does not follow these precautions, email your manager and your office administrators and advise them that this is a potential hazard.


earthquake_safety_office_collapsed_building.jpgOFFICE QUAKE SURVIVAL TIPS

You’re at work, and suddenly you feel the floor shaking and the building swaying. Terrifying, right? You may have no thoughts apart from getting out. But heading for the exit may be the worst thing you can do. Check out the following tips on what to do during an earthquake:


Don’t panic.

This is rule number 1 for any disaster. Panic is not productive—it paralyzes your mind so you can’t think of or remember the most practical solutions to your predicament. Fear is natural, and in situations like earthquakes, inevitable. However, you can function even while you’re afraid; panic, on the other hand, will impair or slow down your reactions and may also make you freeze when what you need is to move, and move fast. We realize this is easier said than done, but try to breathe deeply if you feel a panic attack coming on, as the added oxygen may help keep your brain alert.


Find a safe spot.

Although your school-day earthquake drills may have seen you crawling under desks or standing in doorframes, and it's still advisable to take cover under a sturdy piece of furniture, you need to be aware of the load-bearing capabilities of the furniture in your office. Some tables and cabinets, for example, may only be safe to bear 200lbs or less. If this is the case in your office, it's best to take cover against an interior wall or an inside corner of the room you’re in. Otherwise, crawl under your desk (as long as the surface isn’t made of glass), curl up into the fetal position, and brace your head with your arms. It would also help if you had something under your desk that would hold should its legs give way—a file cabinet, for example. Only stand in a doorway if there is no other option and if you know that the doorway was built to be strong and load-bearing (this is where knowledge of your building’s structure will help).

You may also want to try using the “triangle of life” survival measure, especially in buildings that may not have been outfitted with earthquake-proof technology or built using top-of-the-line materials. What this approach entails is curling up into a fetal position beside a large and sturdy piece of furniture—such as a low shelf or heavy table—and protecting your head with your arms. Even low stacks of paper or books may work in a pinch since paper compresses when weight is applied to it.

The goal is to get into the apex of the “triangle” and represent as small a space as possible so that your body is protected from large falling debris; for example, if a shelf should topple over, and you are hiding nearby on the floor by a sturdy cabinet, the cabinet will hopefully hold the shelf up, and you will be safe in the pocket of space this creates—the triangle. Then if anything else, such as debris from the ceiling, should fall on the shelf, it will protect you from that as well. The key here is to make sure that the furniture you’re curling yourself up against is sturdy and will hold up against heavier things falling on it. Note, though, that the Drop, Cover, and Hold On! route remains the most widely accepted measure.


Stay where you are--do not immediately head for the stairs or the elevators.

If it starts to quake, you should stay where you are (provided you’re not in the stairwell or elevator) as much as possible. If you need to take cover from debris, it's best to do so with under a sturdy desk or other furniture (which you won't find in a stairwell); if this is not possible, the next best thing is to do so against an interior wall. In a downloadable workplace safety advisory provided by the Jamaican government, those caught in a stairwell during an earthquake are advised to "sit down and hold on," while those in elevators are advised to "step out of it if the door is open" or assume the drop position. The US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) also strongly advises against taking the elevators.

You should also stay indoors until the shaking stops and only go outside once it's safe to do so. Your first instinct may be to get out of the building, but this may actually be more dangerous. Moreover, if you are outside your building, try to get clear of other buildings, wiring, electrical poles, and other structures that may topple down on you. According to FEMA, "Research has shown that most injuries occur when people inside buildings attempt to move to a different location inside the building or try to leave."


Avoid windows and other glass objects.

The first thing to do if you’re in an area with a lot of glass—such as windows or some conference rooms—is to get away from the glass as much as possible. This can shatter under the strain an earthquake puts buildings into or when debris falls against it, and flying shards of glass can severely injure you. Even without hitting a major vein or artery, getting a lot of cuts can cause you to lose more blood than you can afford to, which can make you dizzy or light-headed or even make you pass out.


Avoid fire and electrical hazards.

If you’re near a lot of electrical equipment and wiring or anything that could spark a fire, get as far away from these items as possible. Also note that your building’s sprinkler system may turn on automatically, and live wires may be exposed to the water, charging it. Even after the quake, there may still be dangers around you, so be extra observant of your surroundings. You don't want to survive the quake only to be electrocuted when you step in a puddle.


If trapped, stay still but let your presence be known.

If you are trapped under debris after an earthquake, you should try to alert rescuers of your position. However, don’t try to move around too much since this may kick up dust that can choke you or shift debris that may fall on you. Cover your nose and mouth with a hanky or a piece of clothing as a defense against dust as well. Also, let your rescuers know where you are by tapping on a pipe or wall, blowing on a whistle (if you have one), and so forth. If you have your cell phone with you, this is a big help because even if you can’t get a signal, you’ll be able to turn your ringer on so people can hear it. Only shout if you know someone is near and can hear you—you risk inhaling a lot of dust if you shout a lot.


Be on guard even after the quaking stops.


Even after the shaking has stopped, there is still danger. For one thing, aftershocks are extremely likely and can be just as dangerous as the main quake—possibly even more so, if the initial tremor damaged your building’s structure. If you feel an aftershock, treat it just like the earthquake and take cover—get into the triangle of life position if possible.


Check on your coworkers.

Once the quake stops, check on the other people in the office—make sure everyone is accounted for, and help anyone with injuries. When you can, use your office’s first aid kit, especially to stop wounds from bleeding. If anyone is seriously injured, do not move him or her unless he or she is in danger of being injured further. You should take extra care to check on and see to any injuries in those who are older or have disabilities. If you are injured yourself, try to get the attention and assistance of an uninjured coworker.


Be safe getting home.

Roads, bridges, flyovers, and so forth may be damaged, so if you’re going home after a major quake, so you need to take extra care, especially along damaged structures and near fallen wiring. It may actually be safer to stay where you are. FN’s article on home earthquake safety tells people to have a check-in person who lives in a different area or province or even country and whom every member of the family knows how to contact. If you are worried about family, you should check in with this person periodically until everyone in your family has checked in as well and is safe and accounted for.


For more tips on earthquake preparedness, check out the articles on Mahalo.com, SecretsofSurvival.com, and the San Francisco Chronicle.


(Photo source: sxc.hu—1, 2)

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