By LUCILE JONES


Recently, I spoke to a group of Los Angeles business and civic leaders at a breakfast meeting at the City Club on Bunker Hill. The forum, organized by the American Red Cross, Wells Fargo & Co. and the Los Angeles Business Journal, was intended to bring the local business community together around the issue of disaster preparedness. My message to that group was simple; a major earthquake in Southern California is inevitable, but a disaster is not. Simply put, those who have invested in disaster readiness will reap the benefits of being prepared when their world collapses and chaos is the order of the day. The message may be simple, but as always, the devil is in the details. What should we do now to be ready for the (next) big earthquake?


I believe there are three things business and civic leaders ought to focus on right now. These actions are achievable at a relatively low cost, and likely to pay big dividends.


First, focus on the potential for structural damage. Have your business facility inspected by a professional to determine how "quake-worthy" it is. We may have strong building codes now, but they are not retroactive and our buildings are only as good as the building code that was in effect when the facility was built. A large part of Los Angeles was built in the 1950s and '60s, and those buildings may not perform well in the next "Big One."


When you purchase or lease a new facility you are making a decision about how well your business will survive an earthquake so be sure to ask the hard questions about structural strength and resilience, and act accordingly to mitigate shortfalls.


Next, focus on ways to prevent non-structural damage, the damage done to physical facilities, employees and customers by falling or flying objects. Our buildings might be regulated by better construction codes, but no agency regulates the interiors of buildings. It may be good to remember that four of the fatalities in the Northridge earthquake were caused by falling quake debris. What might unsecured bookshelves, computers, printers and the like do to those in your facility, and how much of your business information might you lose if your computers were destroyed? Undoubtedly, your business has invested heavily in compiling and archiving business information; is a $5 tie-down strap too much to invest to save it?

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