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A powerful 9.0 magnitude earthquake off the northeastern coast of Japan on March 11, 2011, offered an unfortunate reminder that disaster awareness and preparedness is critical for businesses around the world.
Following Japan’s earthquake, tsunami warnings were issued for New Zealand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and portions of U.S. coastal areas in Hawaii, Alaska, California, Oregon and Washington.
The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), which serves members in Japan, issued a statement March 11 on the disaster. “The Society for Human Resource Management extends its sincerest sympathies to the people of Japan during this tragic and difficult time,” said Henry G. (Hank) Jackson, interim president and CEO, speaking on behalf of SHRM’s more than 250,000 members in 140 countries. “SHRM stands ready to support its members and the HR community in Japan, which will play a critical role in dealing with the many workplace issues that result from this widespread disaster.”
While initial news reports out of Japan and other Pacific nations were sketchy immediately after the quake and tsunami struck, the need for preparedness remained top of mind for many HR professionals in other parts of the world, especially in New Zealand. In fact, the recent earthquake there could be related.
"This latest [quake] in Japan was almost definitely related to the [6.3-magnitude Christchurch] quake in New Zealand," said Brian Evans, professor at Curtin University in Perth, Western Australia.
New Zealand has some of the best building standards in the world, according to SHRM member John Duncan, owner of Platform Consulting in Christchurch, which is important because the country was rocked by earthquakes in September 2010, December 2010 and February 2011. New Zealand’s “initial quake on September 4, 2010, was 7.0 magnitude, and there were no deaths and only a couple of injuries,” Duncan wrote via e-mail. “This, in some ways, was due to its 4 a.m. timing, but also because of building codes.
“The death toll in the recent quake [in Christchurch] has now exceeded 160 people, but I think it would have been considerably worse if it weren’t for the quality of the buildings.”
Duncan said Platform Consulting prepares for earthquakes, as well as other natural disasters and emergencies, by keeping a 10-gallon supply of drinking water, sufficient amounts of food and emergency blankets to meet staff needs for three to four days. Additionally, the consulting firm provides backup mobile phones and a network cloud for Internet data.
“From my experiences, most businesses I work with [in New Zealand] are medium-size and above, and all have risk management and disaster recovery plans,” Duncan wrote via e-mail. “Since the Sept. 4, 2010, earthquake, Platform Consulting has business interruption insurance.
The Christchurch earthquakes did not occur during business hours, Duncan said, which minimized its impact on the company's employees. Yet, public safety and security remains the No. 1 priority as the deconstruction and demolition of earthquake-damaged buildings in Christchurch’s central business district moves ahead.
Planning Is Crucial
Companies around the world need to be prepared for an earthquake and tsunamis like the one experienced in Japan.
Ready, a public service advertising campaign that educates Americans about natural and man-made disasters, advises people on its
Ready.gov website to prepare for the unpredictable nature of earthquakes by:
QuakeSmart, a subsidiary of
the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), distributes information to businesses in places where earthquakes are likely to occur. It advises businesses on the
QuakeSmart website to:
It is important for employers to have an
emergency evacuation plan to ensure its employees’ safety. Employees must be prepared to follow the plan.
If a powerful earthquake does strike during hours of operation,
federal officials advise workers to:
Tsunamis are large ocean waves generated by major earthquakes beneath the ocean floor or by landslides into the ocean. The tsunami danger period can continue for many hours after a major earthquake.
Officials advise those who might be in a tsunami’s path to:
Catherine Skrzypinski is an online writer/editor for SHRM.
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