Emergency Preparedness and Natural Disasters: Earthquakes

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A few years back I was working at a small brewery in which I had to climb on top of the tanks to dry hop or use finings. In order to do this I had to lean a foldable ladder on the side of the tank and climb two stories up to the top, where I had to balance myself and a heavy bucket on the dome-top of the tank. There, I had to spray sanitizer on the pressure relief valve and undo the tri-clover clamp to pour the contents of the bucket down the open port.

So, for now, let’s just forget about the incredibly unsafe conditions in which all this had to be performed and the lack of any fall protection, because that is a whole other discussion.

This one particular time I was performing this routine and immediately after I set foot back on terra firma, a modest earthquake (category 4.5) hit. This level of earthquake is strong enough to knock things over and set objects in motion if they are not secured. So, as you can imagine, it is a little unnerving standing below big stainless steel tanks that tower overhead when things start moving. I got nervous that the shaking would intensify and a tank would break loose from its footings and fall on me. Then, I started to think, “What if I was still sitting on top of the tank when the shaking began? What if I fell off? What if the ladder fell and I was stranded?”

Obviously, I’m fine and I have this story to tell now. Nothing else to do right? NO! This should be a testament to how lucky I was and inspire us to be safer! In fact, all of the news of disasters right now is a poignant reminder that we all need to be prepared.

The experience of shaking in the brewery told me how important everyday safety is. In the event of an earthquake, hazards are all intensified. It doesn’t matter how skillful of a climber I am, or how deft I am at balancing a bucket of finings on a slick dome. And it certainly doesn’t matter how well I can do the task without any help or without a harness. Things like this are irrelevant when the earth is moving! And it also speaks to the bigger picture of safety when you consider that earthquakes usually trigger many other disasters such as fire and flood, just to name a couple.

It is a little hard to anticipate earthquakes because they are so unpredictable. There are systems out there that can actually give you an early warning of an earthquake and you can read more about one at http://www.shakealert.org. Even with advanced technology on our side, there is no substitute for good planning and getting prepared. The following advice has been collected from Earthquake Country Alliance, The Great Shake Out, Red Cross, and Ready.gov, a national public service campaign of the Department of Homeland Security.

4 Steps to Take to Prepare Your Brewery for an Earthquake

Step 1: Identify Potential Hazards

Make a list of hazards around your brewery. If you already have an HACCP, then you probably have already done much of this assessment. However, you might want to add to your identified hazards looking through the lens of earthquake preparedness. Earthquake hazards include things such as unbraced shelves or heavy items on top of shelves; breakable items such as glass or bottles that can injure people; and gas lines or steam pipes that could break or leak. But, there are also less obvious hazards, like not backing up data and records or other unsecured assets.

Step 2: Create a Disaster Plan and Train Employees

Your disaster plan will help your employees prepare and know what to do in case of an earthquake. However, it is futile to have a plan and not practice it. Earthquake drills are essential to preparedness and you can find help on how to do this at http://www.shakeout.org.

When making your disaster plan, consider some of the following elements:

  • Employee emergency contact information
  • Contact information of your vendors, distributors, property managers, utility companies, and insurance providers
  • Critical business functions (e.g. How long can you shut down production? Or how can you collect/pay bills?)
  • Vital records
  • Utilities shutoffs (especially natural gas to the boiler/kettle)
  • Critical equipment and machinery
  • Recovery locations
  • Life safety and emergency response

There are also some great disaster plan recommendations for implementation at http://www.ready.gov/business/implementation.

Step 3: Prepare Disaster Supply Kits

Earthquake preparedness is not complete if you cannot be self-sufficient when the disaster hits. It is possible that you, your employees, or even your customers will have to stay put for days after the initial shaking. A stockpile of supplies can help to get through the initial phases of the disaster. It is generally suggested that a three-day supply is adequate. Some items to include in the kit are:

  • First aid kits and medical supplies
  • Food – canned, packaged, ready-to-eat
  • Water – enough for one gallon per person per day
  • Lighting – flashlights and extra batteries, lanterns, light sticks
  • Communications – portable AM/FM radio and extra batteries, portable TV
  • Personal protective equipment – hard hats, gloves, dust masks
  • Hygiene and sanitation supplies
  • Tools – basic hand tools like hammers, screw-drivers, wrenches, etc.
  • Tarps or plastic sheeting and ropes
  • Additional supplies to meet the training level of your employees: first aid, Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), EMT

Step 4: Identify Your Building’s Potential Weaknesses and Fix Them

The main goal in preparing your brewery for an earthquake is to minimize disruption to business operations. This means preventing property damage from inhibiting your ability to do business. Some weaknesses can be structural, but many weaknesses are less obvious. All new buildings should comply with seismic codes and thereby should not collapse or start fires, but you should have an expert assess to be sure. To identify weaknesses you should seek the help of structural engineers, architects, fire marshals, or other experts. Talk to the experts to learn what damage might be expected in a seismic event and to help you prioritize solutions.

In addition to this type of preparation, brewery owners and managers should have a discussion with their insurance providers. Not all insurance covers you for earthquakes. Your service provider will also have some good tips to prepare you and minimize your liability in the event of an earthquake.

What To Do During an Earthquake

  • If you are indoors: what you need to do is Drop, Cover, and Hold On. Avoid exterior walls, windows, hanging objects, mirrors, glass, tall furniture, large appliances or equipment, and heavy objects. However, do not try to move more than 5-7 feet before getting on the ground. Do not go outside during shaking! The area near the exterior walls of a building is the most dangerous place to be. Windows, facades, and architectural details are often the first parts of the building to break away.
  • If you are seated and unable to drop to the floor: bend forward, cover your head with your arms, and hold on to your neck with both hands.
  • If you are outdoors: move to a clear area if you can safely do so; avoid power lines, trees, signs, buildings, vehicles, and other hazards. Then Drop, Cover, and Hold On. This protects you from any objects that may be thrown from the side, even if nothing is directly above you.
  • If you are in the tasting room: move away from breakable glass and Drop, Cover, and Hold On. Be prepared to direct coworkers and guests who may be shocked or confused. Most of your guests cannot do drills with you and they may not know what to do.
  • If you are in the brewery: Drop, Cover, and Hold On. Try to avoid heavy machinery or equipment that can move around. If there is a shutoff for the particular operation you are doing, use it. For example, if you are filling kegs, bottles, or cans, or if you are milling, there is likely a kill switch. However, do not try to do too much while the shaking is going on. If you are boiling or transferring when the shaking starts it may not be feasible to shut anything off until after the shaking stops. Move to a safe place, Drop, Cover, and Hold On.
  • If you are driving: pull over to the side of the road, stop, and set the parking brake. Avoid overpasses, bridges, power lines, signs and other hazards. Stay inside the vehicle until the shaking stops, then proceed carefully by avoiding fallen debris, cracked or shifted payment, and emergency vehicles. If a power line falls on the car, stay inside until a trained person removes the wire.

What To Do After an Earthquake

Check for injuries and damage. Life safety is the top priority after an earthquake or any disaster. Check yourself for injuries and get first aid, if necessary, before helping injured or trapped persons. Use trained personnel to find anyone injured.

After an earthquake, the disaster may continue. Expect and prepare for potential aftershocks, landslides, or even a tsunami if you live on a coast. Each time you feel an aftershock, Drop, Cover and Hold On. Aftershocks frequently occur minutes, days, weeks, and even months following an earthquake.

Look for and extinguish small fires. Fire is the most common hazard after an earthquake. Next, survey your building for damage or other hazards. Decide if it is safe to stay.

Once life safety has been addressed, you can begin recovery activities to resume business operations. Conduct an assessment for operational issues. Use your disaster plan to guide your actions and restore priority operations first. Communicate often with employees and key contacts. Document your lessons learned to determine priorities before the next event.

For some more general information on earthquakes, here are some resources:

Have any safety questions or lessons learned stories? We’d like to hear from you! Email us at safetyexchange@brewersassociation.org

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