SHRM Employees Gather Outside the Building

By Beth Mirza, senior editor for HR News and manager of the SHRM Safety & Security Discipline Area

SHRM headquarters in Alexandria, Va., was thrown off-balance last Tuesday during a 5.8 magnitude earthquake. Located 88 miles from the quake’s epicenter in Mineral, Va., the SHRM buildings shook and rattled for nearly a minute during the temblor but sustained no damage.

All employees evacuated quickly and safely without injuries. We stood in a park across the street from our two offices and tried to reach our children and spouses via cell phone and text message. Service was pretty overloaded, which was a scary reminder of Sept. 11, 2001. In fact, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) issued an alert asking people to use email or text messaging instead of cell phone calls.

Our facilities managers checked the buildings for damage as we waited for about an hour to re-enter the buildings and retrieve personal belongings. They gave us periodic updates on their progress. But space under the shade trees was at a premium as the August sun beat down.

Many of us had never experienced an earthquake before, and while most of us headed toward the exit almost immediately after the shaking stopped, we weren’t sure that was the right thing to do. What is the safest course of action during an earthquake? Here’s the recommendation from FEMA:

What to Do During an Earthquake

Stay as safe as possible during an earthquake. Be aware that some earthquakes are actually foreshocks and a larger earthquake might occur. Minimize your movements to a few steps to a nearby safe place and if you are indoors, stay there until the shaking has stopped and you are sure exiting is safe.

If indoors

  • DROP to the ground; take COVER by getting under a sturdy table or other piece of furniture; and HOLD ON until the shaking stops. If there isn’t a table or desk near you, cover your face and head with your arms and crouch in an inside corner of the building.
  • Stay away from glass, windows, outside doors and walls, and anything that could fall, such as lighting fixtures or furniture.
  • Stay in bed if you are there when the earthquake strikes. Hold on and protect your head with a pillow, unless you are under a heavy light fixture that could fall. In that case, move to the nearest safe place.
  • Use a doorway for shelter only if it is in close proximity to you and if you know it is a strongly supported, loadbearing doorway.
  • Stay inside until the shaking stops and it is safe to go outside. Research has shown that most injuries occur when people inside buildings attempt to move to a different location inside the building or try to leave.
  • Be aware that the electricity may go out or the sprinkler systems or fire alarms may turn on.
  • DO NOT use the elevators.

If outdoors

  • Stay there.
  • Move away from buildings, streetlights, and utility wires.
  • Once in the open, stay there until the shaking stops. The greatest danger exists directly outside buildings, at exits and alongside exterior walls. Many of the 120 fatalities from the 1933 Long Beach earthquake occurred when people ran outside of buildings only to be killed by falling debris from collapsing walls. Ground movement during an earthquake is seldom the direct cause of death or injury. Most earthquake-related casualties result from collapsing walls, flying glass, and falling objects.

If in a moving vehicle

  • Stop as quickly as safety permits and stay in the vehicle. Avoid stopping near or under buildings, trees, overpasses, and utility wires.
  • Proceed cautiously once the earthquake has stopped. Avoid roads, bridges, or ramps that might have been damaged by the earthquake.

If trapped under debris

  • Do not light a match.
  • Do not move about or kick up dust.
  • Cover your mouth with a handkerchief or clothing.
  • Tap on a pipe or wall so rescuers can locate you. Use a whistle if one is available. Shout only as a last resort. Shouting can cause you to inhale dangerous amounts of dust.

What to Do After an Earthquake

  • Expect aftershocks. These secondary shockwaves are usually less violent than the main quake but can be strong enough to do additional damage to weakened structures and can occur in the first hours, days, weeks, or even months after the quake.
  • Listen to a battery-operated radio or television. Listen for the latest emergency information.
  • Use the telephone only for emergency calls.
  • Open cabinets cautiously. Beware of objects that can fall off shelves.
  • Stay away from damaged areas. Stay away unless your assistance has been specifically requested by police, fire, or relief organizations. Return home only when authorities say it is safe.

For more in-depth guidance, see SHRM’s toolkit on Managing Through Emergency and Disaster.

Now, on the heels of the earthquake followed by Hurricane Irene we’re just wondering when the plague of locusts will be arriving. Wait, what’s that whirring noise in the backyard?

Please, tell me it’s just cicadas …