Most catastrophic events provide us with some forewarning. Hurricanes and serious storms are tracked for weeks, alerting those in its path to prepare. 

There’s no such notice when it comes to earthquakes. The rapid and sudden onset of an earthquake is precisely what makes it so destructive. And all it takes is 10 seconds of the earth shaking to do major damage. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), disasters like earthquakes are so disruptive that almost 40 percent of affected small businesses never reopen their doors following one.

As a business, all you can do is prepare. Prepare for the before, during and aftermath of an earthquake with an earthquake preparation critical incident response plan, disaster recovery plan and a business continuity plan. 

The Critical Incident Response Earthquake Plan: Drop, Cover and Hold on 

When you have just seconds to consider how to protect yourself, having an earthquake preparation plan can make all the difference. A critical incident response plan will teach employees what to do in case of an earthquake, including how to survive the event itself. 

Hold a tabletop exercise. To truly be prepared, employees need to experience a real-life scenario, or be part of an in-depth discussion about how to respond in the face of a disaster.

The workplace tabletop exercise should center around FEMA’s Drop, Cover and Hold On method. Train employees to: Drop, Cover, and Hold On. 

  • Drop to your hands and knees to avoid falling. Casualties and injuries occur when people fall while trying to walk or run during an earthquake. 
  • Cover your head and neck with your arms to protect yourself from falling debris and walls. If possible, crawl safely for cover under a desk or table. If not, consider an interior wall or corner nearby. Avoid glass, windows and outside doors and walls, and being under anything that can fall, including light fixtures or loose, not sturdy furniture. 
  • Hold On to anything sturdy until the shaking stops. Stay where you are until the shaking stops. 
    Consider the following department-specific needs for critical incident response: 
  • Facilities – Are there structural maintenance considerations, earthquake resistant construction; back-up power supplies and accessibility considerations? 
  • Human Resources – Plan for employee notifications and alerts; early release/telework policies; flexible work schedules; payroll and insurance policies; employee reunification procedures and employees trained in first aid with access to medical supplies.
  • Communication – Have the ability to communicate critical information and updates during an emergency through multiple notification systems; consider protocols for communicating with first responders and critical infrastructure providers. 

The tabletop exercise should last between two and three hours. While that sounds like a long time, it’s necessary for thorough explanation and discussion to unfold. For more information on how to facilitate a tabletop exercise, see FEMA’s Prepare Your Organization for an Earthquake Playbook

The Disaster Recovery Plan: Shelter and Evacuate Employees 

An earthquake is rarely an isolated event. Typically, one or multiple aftershocks will follow a major quake. These can be even more devastating. Businesses need to consider how they’re going to protect their people and property should catastrophe suddenly hit. But, most don’t. As many as 75 percent of small businesses don’t have a disaster recovery plan in place.2  

Consider the following when creating yours:  

  • Be prepared to shelter your employees and potential visitors at the time of an earthquake for at least 72 hours. You’ll need to have food and water and portable sanitary facilities, sleeping materials and blankets on hand. 
  • Understand the stress of employees stuck in place, or after a major earthquake in the office. Consider the impact the catastrophe can have on your workforce, the anxiety it may create and be aware of those implications in the office. 
  • When it’s safe to evacuate, you’ll need to render necessary aid, moving people around to structurally sound and safe areas in the building or on the campus. Venturing outside isn’t always the answer. 

The Business Continuity Earthquake Plan: Reestablishing Business Operations  

A business continuity plan will look at the impact of the earthquake on the business in crisis and measure the maximum tolerable outage, identify essential recovery points and time objectives to ensure survivability and long term sustainability. How will the earthquake impact profitability? How will your organization retain its market share and reputation? A business continuity plan for earthquake preparation will include:

  • Plans for an alternative relocation office
  • Notifications up and down the supply chain
  • Staff accommodations, including laptops, flexible schedules, etc.
  • Post-earthquake, additional staffing considerations 
  • Communication with the public and customers
  • Supply chain considerations

As many as 52 percent of businesses say it would take them at least three months to recovery from a disaster, like an earthquake.2 For this reason, many supply chain vendors and clients are now demanding that partnering organization have a business continuity plan in place before engaging in business. Secondly, many insurance underwriters will require various businesses to have continuity plan before insuring them.

A couple of seconds can change everything

In many earthquake zones across the country, it’s not a matter of ‘if’ an earthquake will hit, but ‘when.’ Don’t wait for the unthinkable to happen. Start earthquake preparation today. Consider the elements of a critical incident response, disaster recovery and business continuity earthquake plans. Determine what your business needs to do to put them in place. 

Call the HUB Risk Services team  today for help with creating, practicing and setting these crucial plans into play, that can ultimately save your employees and your business. 


2 Nationwide poll, 2015.