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Prepare For an Earthquake – Secure Non-Structural Elements

Prepare For an Earthquake – Secure Non-Structural Elements

Is your commercial property ready for the next BIG earthquake?

In the last few years, most people have heard about and seen the world news stories about the last several major earthquakes.  Many pictures of extreme devastation, especially in Haiti, come to mind when remembering the earthquake there.  While the earthquake that occurred in Japan also created devastation, many more buildings were strong enough to withstand the force of that incredible seismic activity.  Each location serves as a good example of the importance of building codes and proper construction.  In all honesty, most cities in the United States would fall somewhere in the middle of these two extremes.  There are several ways to improve the strength and safety of the commercial buildings here in the US, including earthquake retrofitting. One of the first places to start with improvements, however, is to strengthen any non-structural elements of a building for the force of an earthquake.

Warehouses and commercial buildings are full of all kinds of things that can become hazards, especially once the ground starts to shift, shake and roll during an earthquake.  Equipment often collapses, heavy items hung from the ceiling can swing and fall, and chemicals or hazardous materials may spill; these scenarios have the potential to create extremely dangerous conditions for employees or tenants as they try to evacuate a building during an earthquake.  Secondary problems can quickly destroy a building.  For instance, gas fires are common as the lines break.  If fire sprinklers also break, not only will they not be operational to put the fire out, but they will also spray old, sludge-filled water all over the damaged building.  Even a small earthquake that doesn’t bring down your building can result in many thousands of dollars of secondary water and fire damage.

There are a number of steps that can be easily taken by commercial tenants to minimize potential loss in an office environment.  Every one of these items listed below that you can check off as handled ahead of time is one less potential source of damage or loss during an earthquake event.

  • Securely fastened down desktop computer equipment so it won’t move during an earthquake.
  • Keep data backup copies off-site.
  • Attach wall decorations, mirrors, hanging plants, fire extinguishers, and other heavy objects with closed-eye hooks so they cannot fall.
  • Protect fragile objects (vases, display cases, and framed photographs, for example) against tipping over or sliding off shelves.
  • Attach tall filing and storage cabinets to the wall or, if they are installed in rows, attach the rows to each other so they cannot fall over.

No one wants the added expense, after an earthquake occurs, of dealing with or fixing simple things that could have easily been handled at any time before a significant seismic event.

The process of securing commercial buildings for the damaging impact of an earthquake often starts with an inspection for structural repairs or seismic retrofitting.  During the initial building inspection process, an experienced, professional retrofitting contractor will determine non-structural areas that would be at-risk during a major earthquake event.  There may be a number of non-structural items that will need to be secured and anchored before the impact of an earthquake, such as:

  • Compressed gas cylinders
  • Racking systems that store equipment
  • Ceiling grids
  • Light fixtures
  • Fire sprinklers
  • Office machines (computers, copiers, faxes, and printers, for example) and shop equipment
  • Containers of laboratory chemicals or other hazardous materials
  • Equipment in manufacturing plants

During a typical building safety inspection, structural issues may also be identified and repairs may be needed that require a complete seismic retrofit, over and above securing non-structural items.  These repairs might include installation of roof diaphragms, Glue Laminated Beams (GLB), purlins, sub-purlin, plywood, and walls.  It is often very time and cost effective, though, to go through and handle all needed changes, even if your building is currently occupied.

The weaknesses (structural and non-structural) that are identified during a pre-earthquake retrofit/building safety inspection, if not corrected, can result in one or more of the following when the BIG ONE occurs:

  • Injury to occupants and bystanders
  • Severe damage to the building structure
  • Broken gas and utility lines
  • Fires from broken gas or electric lines
  • Flooding from broken water pipes
  • Damage to floors, walls, and windows
  • Damage to the contents in the building
  • Damage to the foundations

There are many reasons to consider retrofitting your commercial property sooner, rather than later.  Earthquake retrofitting may make earthquake insurance more affordable or even possible, which will protect you financially from damage expenses.  Securing and strengthening a commercial building for an earthquake will protect tenants and property.  In addition, retrofitting before an earthquake is much more affordable than costly repairs later.  If you’d like more information on how to get an inspection for seismic retrofitting or how to secure the non-structural elements of a building before an earthquake, call Saunders Commercial Earthquake Retrofit Bay Area today!


Northern California Office

(408) 267-3876

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