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Industry leader interviews covering safety, 5S, Lean, Six Sigma and continuous improvement topics. 30-minute podcasts on PPE, software, tools, GHS labeling and more. Rich library of safety-related content.

An Earthquake At Work

Earthquake safety at work? A quake could happen while employees are on the job. Prep with workplace emergency supplies, equipment and evacuation drills.

Melinda Davis – American Red Cross

American Red Cross staffer Melinda Davis says doorway thresholds are unsafe. Previous emergency protocol advised people to stand in doorways. Now, safety experts say door frames are weak and could collapse, and swinging doors can injure.

Melinda suggests employers have dedicated emergency supply kits and equipment. She also says at the top of the list is regular evacuation and fire drills. Workers should have personal emergency kits in their car or truck, and at their desk or work space.

Communications to police, fire and medical via ham radio will be helpful if power and phone service is out. This radio equipment and power supply should be kept on site, and assigned to a knowledgeable operator.

Melinda Davis is the Preparedness and Partnerships Manager of The American Red Cross, Cascade Region.



Brandon Nys: Welcome to Safety Experts Talk. Visit our website at

Earthquake app for iOS and Android.

Introduction music


Melinda Davis: So, you should have basic supplies in your car, or at your workstation.

Dan Clark: You know you should have an earthquake preparedness kit at home, but what if a quake happens at work? Today we review how employers and employees should prep for a seismic event.

Hi there, I’m Dan Clark, and today were talking with Melinda Davis, Preparedness and Partnerships Manager of The American Red Cross, Cascade Region. Hi, Melinda.

Melinda: Hi, Dan.

Dan: Thanks for giving us your time today.

Melinda: Absolutely. Thanks for having me on.

Dan: Well, Melinda, let me start off with something that’s important whether you’re work or at home. And that’s standing in doorways. The old advice was “Ohh, it’s very safe to stand in a doorway.” But that advice has changed. Why?


Melinda: It has changed. A lot of it is just due to changing construction methods and building standards. Those doorways are not necessarily any safer than any other place in your room anymore. They’re not always built to that same standard. The other consideration with doorways is that if there is a door in that doorway it may swing in an earthquake event and you don’t want to be hit by a swinging door. That lead to additional injuries. And another consideration is: how many people are in your room versus the number of doorways? It’s probably not going to fit everybody.

So, of course, we always recommend DROP, COVER and HOLD. That could be under a table, a desk, anything sturdy that’s going to be able to protect your head and your neck from any sort of falling debris. If you’re in a room that doesn’t have a table or desk, your next safest place is going to be against an interior wall. And again, protecting your head and your neck, but staying away from things above you like glass that could break or heavy objects that have been mounted on the walls or the ceiling that could fall in the event of an earthquake.

Dan: Okay good. I’m glad we’ve got that straight. So, on to an earthquake at work.

Melinda: Sure.

Dan: If an earthquake hits, there is a good chance that it will hit when workers are on the job. If roads and bridges are closed they may be stuck at the workplace for days. So, how should workers and company owners get ready for this?

Melinda: I think there’s a lot of steps you can take. Of course, the first one would be being personally prepared. So, each worker should realize that “Yes, this is an event that could affect us.” And you might not be home when it happens. So, you should have basic supplies in your car, or at your workstation. I know here at the Red Cross we all have, kind of, a basic emergency kit underneath our desks with some food, water, maybe a poncho, and an emergency blanket, and a light stick, and a whistle. Just those basic supplies on hand are going to protect you, personally, in the incident.

There are also a lot of steps that the business itself or organization should consider taking. Of course, having an emergency operations plan. And hopefully, that plan includes what to do if you have clients, or your workers, who are there at your site when the incident happens. So, covering everything from fire escape routes or evacuation routes out of your building, to what you would need to do if you had to shelter in place there.

If you did have to shelter in place, you would want to think about: “Do you have the supplies on hand?” Maybe some plastic sheeting and duct tape to build a safe shelter, if needed. Having water and some food on hand for those people who might be stuck there at that workplace for a while. And those other basic supplies like dust masks and gloves. Extra emergency rain ponchos, or those fold-up emergency blankets. Extra whistles for people. Just, kind of, those basic emergency supplies that you might need.

Dan: Uh-huh. And if it’s a big disaster, uh, electricity’s out. Phone service is out. Cell service is down. How do people communicate with the outside world?

Melinda: Well, if the event really is so bad that it takes out most of our communication, the one thing that we will be able to count on are those ham radio operators. So, messages will still be relayed via radio. There are agreements in place where ham radio operators will be helping first responders relay messages. But, if an organization were to ask its employees “Does anybody here already having a ham radio operating license, or is anybody interested in getting one?” That would be one way for them to communicate.

Also, just having radios in that emergency kit, that way, even if you can’t send messages back and forth, you could at least listen and hear what’s going on, and know what’s being done in terms of evacuations or safe places to go, or where first responders will be.

Dan: And when you say “just to listen” to those types of radios, do you mean a standard AM/FM radio for local broadcasts?

Melinda: Yep. Something as basic as that. I know they do sell a lot of emergency radios. Ones that have both a crank option, and a solar option in addition to batteries, just in case of batteries to go dead. Also NOAA weather radios will be broadcasting information that way as well.

Dan: Okay. I do have one of those and, unfortunately, my battery went dead last time I went to go use it. So, it’s something that you can’t just buy and then forget about. You have to maintain it.

American Red Cross

Melinda: Absolutely.

Dan: So, I’m imagining a workplace with a stocked emergency closet full of supplies. How often should these supplies be checked on and replenished?

Melinda: I would say at least every six months. It also depends on the types of things you’re storing. If you are storing water in, say, plastic containers, that should be switched out at least every six months just because the plastic tends to break down and you don’t want to contaminate your water source that way. Switching out food is really important. You want to make sure that you’re checking those expiration dates on things and, kind of, having a system where things get rotated through and used appropriately within that timeframe.

There are a lot of food options that last for a long time. A lot of things to consider putting in there that would be higher in calories, and things that you didn’t have to cook in order to eat. Peanut butter and tunafish. Camping foods, dehydrated foods are really great options for emergency stores.

Dan: Okay. Well, I think we’ve got what happens after the earthquake covered. But what about before? What kind of prep should a company and the employees go through?

Melinda: I would say having actual evacuation drills—fire drills—are really one of the most important things that an organization can do to help their employees be prepared. If, for some reason, you did need to leave that building quickly, knowing those evacuation routes ahead of time is something that’s really going to save lives in that kind of event.

There’s other steps that organizations can take. We have a great program. It’s called Ready Rating, at It’s a free service and, basically, what it does is walk through your organization. So, somebody who’s familiar with your organization would go through and take this assessment. They can stop and start whenever they need. It saves where you are.

What it’s going to do is really look at the kinds of plans your organization already has in place. What sorts of practices you’re already doing. What sorts of human and physical resources you have in place and, really, what you’re building looks like. When you finish that assessment, it prints out a report for you. That report is not something that the Red Cross ever sees. It’s not a way for us to judge how prepared organizations are, or anything like that. But it’s there as a resource for the organization so they can look at it and see “Oh, there are a lot of low cost, low time things I can do.” Like inviting one of our Red Cross volunteers in to talk to their workers about emergency preparedness.

So, that’s something that takes only about an hour and it’s completely free. So, that’s an awesome resource for them. It goes all the way through various things, to “Maybe we want to consider having some of our employees take first aid, CPR and AED training.” That’s another thing that they can do through the Red Cross. It doesn’t take much time. There’s a small cost associated with it, but, overall, that would definitely help your workforce be more prepared to deal with those things. And it really just walks through a whole lot of different ideas. Maybe you need to start coming up with that plan, and looking at places where you can pull a template out and start filling that out for your organization.

Now, there’s a lot of great options online on the website. FEMA has put together a lot of templates people can use. But it’ll go all the way through things to, you know, maybe you need to consider seismically retrofitting your building, which, obviously, would be a very high expense endeavor. It depends on if you feel like that’s something that you need to do to protect your workforce.

Dan: Right. And retrofits can be a long time in coming. Or, if you’re in, say, a warehouse with constantly changing inventory, there’s no way to latch everything down. What can companies do to keep workers safe if all of that starts shaking?

Melinda: Well, I’d say it’s definitely something that they would want to look at. Even if it’s just securing the shelves and starting with that. Especially if they’re against a wall. I know you can buy those attachment pieces of a lot of local hardware stores just to make sure that the shelf itself doesn’t come down in the event of an earthquake. From there, looking at how you’re going to secure the stuff that’s actually on those shelves is definitely an important thing to think about, even if it’s just a strap across it, or something along those lines.

But at the very least, making sure that people who are working in that environment understand that, in the event of an earthquake, things might come off those shelves and that they need to be as far away from that and in a safe location as possible.

Dan: One more time on the Ready Rating. How can a business check their Ready Rating?

Melinda: You would just go to

Dan: Mm-hm.

Melinda: And it’s totally free, so I would highly recommend at least checking it out and seeing if it’s something that might be of use to your organization.

Dan: And you also said that Red Cross volunteers will come out and do a presentation about disaster and earthquake preparedness for company?

Melinda: Yeah. So that’s a completely free service, again. We have a whole group of volunteers who’ve gone through significant amount of training and they are prepared to come out and offer a presentation for organizations. So, focusing on, of course, earthquakes. But also talking about wildfires, winter storm safety, home fires. And then we talk about how to make a plan. So, for you individually, for your family or your household group, and then, of course, that would extend to into the workplace.

And we also talk about how to build an emergency kit. So, we really try to cover all of those things and talk about the importance of being prepared, both personally and as a community.

Dan: Well, that sounds like a great way to spend all lunch hour.

Melinda: Absolutely.

Dan: Well, Melinda, do you have any final thoughts on companies being prepared in case the “big one” happens?

An_Earthquake_At_Work-Creative_Safety_Supply-200x151Melinda: I would say my biggest recommendation would just be to establish that plan, and then actually practice it. So many times I think we come up with these plans that sound really great. But, if you’ve never practiced them, maybe there’s some huge flaw that wouldn’t have even been noticed in the planning phases. But, once you get out there and actually physically try to do your plan, oh, a lot of things can really come up. So, I would say make a plan and practice it.

Dan: Thank you very much. Ah, that’s all the time we have today, Melinda. I appreciate you being our guest.

Melinda: Absolutely. Thank you.

Dan: We’ve been talking with Melinda Davis of the American Red Cross. She’s the Preparedness And Partnerships Manager for the Cascade Region. Thanks again for joining us, Melinda. I’m Dan Clark.

(Outro Music with Voiceover)

Brandon: Thank you for joining us on Safety Experts Talk. If you have suggestions for future podcasts, send them to For more safety experts talking about safety news, OSHA regulations, PPE, lean, 5S, or Continuous Improvement, go to


US Geological Survey map of earthquake risk, 2014:


External links:

American Red Cross – Earthquake App

OSHA earthquake info

OSHA emergency preparedness

Melinda Davis photo © 2015 / David F. Ashton – All Rights Reserved; Ruined sign image by FEMA / The Ad Council; Drop, Cover and Hold images by The Great Shakeout

Additional Resources