HAP Blog

An Aftershock of Preparedness

What did you learn about your emergency response after the latest earthquake?

April 15, 2024

A few Fridays back, folks in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and other regions were startled when a 4.8-magnitude earthquake shook the region.

Upon hearing about this, I was taken back to my childhood. I remember being home alone, sick from school, and napping on the living room couch. One moment the room was quiet, and the next, everything seemed to jostle and wobble a bit. I remember being perplexed. I stood. What’s happening? Items on shelves rattled and clanked. Over in the corner, a light fixture swayed. An odd noise came from down the hallway, possibly a kitchen appliance. And then, almost as quickly as it began, it stopped. Everything settled. No concerns, I thought, so I laid back onto the couch and dozed back off.

Assessment of recent earthquake

I imagine the rattle and clank I heard years ago was probably not much different than the rattle and clank many individuals heard a few weeks ago. Fortunately, like my experience, this latest event came and went with little reports of damage. There were some accounts of structural damage to homes in Newark, but there were no real accounts of significant injuries. Minor travel caused some headaches as a handful of airports halted flights to allow for runway inspections.

There appeared to be no impact to the hospital and health care sector. And, overall, the commonwealth and the surrounding area fared well, which may not have come as a surprise to most.  

Geographic trends

The East Coast doesn’t typically see higher magnitude earthquakes like the West Coast and other portions of the world. A U.S. Geological Survey geophysicist said there have been at least a dozen aftershocks with this recent event, but the likelihood of a larger quake occurring decreases over time.

This is good news, but it leads me to ask a question: Should we go back to what we were doing before everything began to shake? Or, put more simply: Are we OK to lay back down on the couch?

Your preparedness

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) points out that the majority of damage from earthquakes is nonstructural, and there are plenty of potential hazards. During earthquakes, we’ll see common concerns related to mechanical and electrical problems, plumbing systems, wall fixtures, architecture, hospital equipment, windows, partitions, file cabinets, air conditioning units and ducts, computers, and much, much more. Essentially, almost every item within our facilities is a potential hazard. After a tremor, it’s important to inspect straps, latches, hooks, screws, and anchoring systems to determine if there’s been a compromise or loosening.

A glimpse inside our facilities shows some potential concerns:

  • Lobbies:  Commonly designed with aesthetically pleasing architecture, light fixtures, aquariums, video messaging boards, water features, and many other items could shift or become unsecured.  
  • Storage Areas:  Space is limited within many facilities, and storage rooms can be tightly packed with supplies and equipment that may have shifted and now pose a risk to crashing down.
  • Furniture:  Office spaces and workstations tend to have bookcases, cabinets, and shelves that can topple or have objects that can fall. Examine these structures to see if they are reinforced or resecured.   
  • Miscellaneous items:  Containers and bottles tip, spill, and leak; decorative brick and tile can become free from their mortar; mirrors, TVs, pictures, and informational displays may loosen from brackets; grandfather clocks, sculptures, artwork, and indoor greenery and plants may have shifted from their base.

While our region typically sees lower magnitude earthquakes like the 4.8 tremor, we are not immune from experiencing these events, and similar size quakes are common for the East Coast. Furthermore, they can be greater in magnitude. In 2011, a 5.8 magnitude earthquake originated in Virginia and shook many individuals from Georgia to Maine, and cost over $200 million in property damage.

It appears we’ve fared well this time, but it might be worth encouraging staff to assess and survey their work areas and report potential issues. Doing this might help you avoid future issues and damage, future injuries, and maybe save a few dollars.

If I could go back to that moment before I laid back down on the couch, I’d do it differently. Instead, I’d walk into the kitchen to check the refrigerator. I would have seen the door had been popped open. I would have closed it, and the groceries wouldn’t have spoiled. That would have saved my mother and myself a little aggravation. We all learn our own lessons in our own time.

For more insights, contact me or HAP’s emergency management team.

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