Rare East Coast Earthquake Reminds Us of the Importance of Seismic Preparedness

August 24, 2011

By Jim Streeter, Director, Professional Services, VFA, Inc.

Recently, a rare earthquake shook the East Coast, measuring 5.8 on the Richter scale. The quake was centered in Virginia, but was felt in 25 states and Ontario. It has caused many to begin thinking about the importance of earthquake preparation, especially in regards to facilities. We have talked about this in previous posts, particularly the challenge for facilities managers in addressing the risk posed by nonstructural components.

According to FEMA, in general, the structural components of a commercial building account for approximately 15-25% of the original construction cost, while the nonstructural (mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and architectural) components account for the remaining 75-85% of the cost. Contents belonging to the building occupants, such as movable partitions, furniture, and office or medical equipment, represent a significant additional value at risk. When these costs are compared, it becomes clear that the largest capital investment in most commercial buildings is in the nonstructural systems and contents. You can read more about the sources of earthquake damage that can occur in nonstructural components on the FEMA website.

The Red Cross offers a helpful checklist for earthquake safety, which may be especially useful in areas where people are not used to this type of natural disaster. As they mention, bookcases, cabinets, light fixtures are among the items that can fall and cause serious injury and damage. Understanding seismic risks and assessing facilities for non-structural components is an important first step for facility managers.

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