What are companies such as Microsoft, Amazon, Expedia, Starbucks and Nike to do if “the really big one” shakes the Pacific Northwest?
An apocalyptically-worded story in the latest issue of the New Yorker detailed the devastation that might result from a high-magnitude earthquake along the Cascadia subduction zone, a fault line that runs from Cape Mendocino, Calif., to Vancouver Island, Canada.
“Our operating assumption is that everything west of Interstate 5” -- including big parts of Seattle, Portland and other major municipalities in Washington and Oregon -- “will be toast,” Kenneth Murphy, a regional director for FEMA, told the New Yorker.
In fact, most areas in the affected zone would be able to ride out a high-magnitude earthquake and would be out of the way of the tsunami expected to follow, according to Bill Steele, director of outreach and communications for the University of Washington’s Pacific Northwest Seismic Network.
“It’s not going to look like the coast of Japan after the tsunami came through. It’s not anything like that,” he said.
That's not to say a mega-quake wouldn't cause mega-disruptions for local businesses, however. Here are some tips to help your company be ready if a disaster such as a 9.0 magnitude earthquake were to hit your area.
1. Spread out your resources
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, says Wendy Freitag, communications outreach specialist with Washington state agency Center of Excellence for Homeland Security, aimed at building disaster resilience in the state. Cross-train staff in different locations so that if one location has to close as a result of disaster, staff at another location can take over operations. Be ready to route calls through call centers off-site rather than call centers in the affected place. Make sure you have a geographically diverse group of suppliers, says Steele.
2. Back it up
Companies should invest in backup servers offsite to keep websites running and other stored information safe from damage, Freitag said. She also recommended purchasing backup generators to keep the lights on and having backup batteries and solar powered chargers available for cell phones. If cell phone service is available, it won’t be much use of employees’ cell phones have died and the electricity is out, she said.
3. Think of alternative ways to communicate
Voice communication technology may be shot for a while after a major event such as a magnitude 9.0 earthquake followed by tsunami. Freitag said companies may be able to rely on sending messages by SMS or -- if they can log on -- over the internet. Another option she said was to invest in satellite phones for key employees to communicate with each other. She said businesses can talk to their telecom providers about what options may be available.
4. Prepare your employees
Employees need to be prepared to respond if a disaster occurs while they are at the workplace. Freitag recommends companies run drills such as those organized through ShakeOut. Companies may find themselves unable to send employees home if a disaster hits during the workday, Steele noted. So workplaces need to be prepared to keep employees on site until it is safe to leave.
Just as important as preparing employees to cope with the impact of a massive earthquake on the company is helping employees prepare at home. Parents worrying about their children probably won’t be focused on keeping the company in shape through the disaster, says Freitag. She advises companies to incentivize employees to get their homes and families disaster ready. Companies might bring someone in to train employees on how to prepare at home, she said.
5. Go above and beyond with building safety
“The basic building code is designed to prevent the catastrophic collapse of buildings, to not kill people,” said Steele.
Minimum safety codes are not aimed at keeping a building fully functional after a disaster occurs. Engineers can help companies make improvements to buildings so that electrical wiring, heating and ventilation systems, server racks and other building amenities stay intact and ready for future use. Businesses can also take some tips from homeowners in preparing for a big earthquake -- bolting shelves to walls, for example.
6. Pool your resources
Most large companies already have business continuity plans in case of disaster, but smaller businesses may not have the resources to thoroughly prepare on their own, says Freitag. She suggests that small businesses located in close proximity to each other find a way to pool resources to prepare. Ask the local chamber of commerce to invite a disaster preparedness expert to speak to employees as one large group, she said. Have each business offer a specific aspect of preparedness - a food company can offer to keep extra food on site, for example.