Posts Tagged ‘Earthquake’

Earthquake Strikes Taiwan

Friday, February 5th, 2016

October 8 is International Day for Disaster Reduction

Thursday, October 9th, 2008
Natural disasters are devastating in the developing world

Natural disasters are devastating in the developing world

October 8 is the International Day for Disaster Reduction, continuing a tradition agreed upon by the United Nations General Assembly nearly twenty years ago in which the second Wednesday of October is designated to observe the need for better risk practices. It is the poor in the developing world who are most vulnerable to natural disasters. In 2008 alone, more than 62,000 people died in China’s Sichuan-Wenchuan Earthquake and Cyclone Nargis killed or left homeless more than 84,000 people in Myanmar.

I had the experience to speak with small business owners and government officials in Beijing concerning the disaster vulnerabilities of smaller enterprises. Representatives of more than ten Asian countries participated. With the passage of time, we forget the severity of threats, such as SARS and avian bird flu. October 8 is a day to reflect on how we might improve our resilience to such threats, particularly for the most vulnerable among us.

Forum on the New Madrid Seismic Zone

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

My former employer, Swiss Re, hosted a forum to discuss the issues around the New Madrid Seismic Zone. This area in the Midwest includes Memphis and St. Louis and while the probability of a major New Madrid earthquake is less than that for one in the San Andreas Fault zone, the catastrophic consequences in the Midwest are potentially greater than those of California. This is, in part, because of the economic dependence on transportation systems, power infrastructure and other critical facilities in that area. Experts believe that the loss potential of a major earthquake at New Madrid could range from $80 billion to $200 billion in damages. Indeed, over a period of just under two months in 1811 – 1812, three major earthquakes of a 7.7 magnitude occurred in New Madrid. This was the last major seismic activity in that area and it was second in severity only to the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco.  By comparison, the Northridge Earthquake measured 6.7 on the Richter scale.  Isn’t it extraordinary to think that an earthquake in the Midwest, an area we don’t typically associate with that peril, exceeded the strongest severity U.S. earthquake in our lifetime?

One of the speakers at the Forum was Chris Cramer, PhD and Research Associate Professor at the Center for Earthquake Research and Information, who made a number of interesting observations concerning the differences between New Madrid and San Andreas. It is more difficult to collect data from the New Madrid Zone, as the surface fault lines are not as readily available to study as they are in California. Dr. Erdem Karaca of Swiss Re added that, the challenges in collecting complete data notwithstanding, it is known that the soils of the Midwest are very different from those of California, with a greater risk of damage due to liquification, which often results in building settlement damages. Another concern raised by Mr. Michael Griffin, PE, a structural engineer with the CCS Group Inc., is that building construction methodology and local building codes are less robust, with respect to earthquake safety, than in California. In California, many of the more vulnerable buildings have been replaced with structures that are more resilient to seismic shifts.

Moreover, earthquakes originating in the Midwest may travel farther than would be possible in California, owing to the fact that the earth’s crust is older and more stable in the New Madrid Zone. For example, an earthquake with an intensity of 7.0 in San Francisco may cover 12,000 square miles, while the same earthquake intensity at New Madrid may cover 203,000 square miles. This larger zone impact brings additional challenges to coordination among emergency responders. In his presentation to the Forum, Jim Wilkinson, Executive Director of Central U.S. Earthquake Consortium, noted that the New Madrid Seismic Zone covers four FEMA zones, eight states and nine bordering states. The Central United States Earthquake Consortium was formed to help coordinate various governmental and private activities related to the New Madrid Seismic Zone. Mr. Andy Castaldi, Senior Vice President of Swiss Re and Head of Cat Perils in the Americas, moderated the Forum. In the near future, I will invite an expert to contribute a guest blog on earthquake risks for the benefit of our small businesses in the Midwest.

When Disaster Strikes, Calls Often Do Not Go Through

Friday, September 12th, 2008
Hurricane Ike Approaches

Hurricane Ike Approaches

There were widespread disruptions in telephone service in Southern California following their recent earthquake, as callers overloaded both landlines and wireless systems. One wireless carrier reported an 800% increase in call volume following the earthquake, prompting emergency responders to urge citizens to restrict their calls so that 911 calls could go through (source: The Los Angeles Times). Such disruptions are common in the immediate aftermath of a disaster and are particularly frustrating as people are anxious to connect with their loved ones to assure their safety. These disruptions may cause particular hardship for smaller businesses, which typically cannot diversify their geographic risk to work from multiple, remote locations. However, there are simple, basic steps that every small business owner should take now to prepare for the inevitable future disruptions:

1.    Make sure that your employees and family members become familiar with text messaging, which often works even when landline and cell phone communications are disrupted. Cell phones have two communication channels: one for the negotiation protocol to establish the call, which has no real time requirements, and a data channel that transports the actual digital voice data stream, and requires real-time quality of service attributes that require capacity on the network. SMS messages are sent over the protocol channel; therefore they don’t arrive in real time, but with a few seconds’ or minutes’ delay. However, the protocol channel is never as busy as the data channel, so if the network is congested (e.g. all calls during emergencies), the protocol channel is the best bet. (SMS stands for “short message service”, or text messaging.)

2.    Here is a tip verbatim from the book: think in reverse for forwarding critical business calls. The cell phone is the natural backup solution for landlines. The question is how to automatically connect land- and cell-phone based service so that the cell phone service would take over once the landlines have failed. The problem is two-fold: once the landlines have failed, it is not possible for you to forward them to the cell phones. Moreover, in an emergency, such as an earthquake, you want to evacuate quickly and should not put yourself in harm’s way by returning to your office to deal with the phones. The solution is developed by thinking in reverse. Use the cell phone as your general business contact number. Program the phone in such a way that any incoming call is forwarded to your land-based business phone number when the cellular phone is switched off. If your land-based line fails (or you are unable to return to your office to access it), you simply switch on your cellular phone, and voilà. This is what I did on the morning of 9-11, when I evacuated the World Trade Center, but it was not safe to return to my office. I went home to shelter in place and turned on my cell phone to receive all incoming office calls.

3. I also pay $40/month/person to have a second cell phone with service provided by a different carrier from a different area code for major disruptions in cell communications services. This approach may be of limited benefit when a large geographic area is affected by disaster (such as the Gulf Coast post-Katrina when cell phone towers were all down), but it can help you if you are evacuated to another region and can access a non-local carrier. More importantly, it can help for a less widespread disaster, which is the statistically more probable event.

With Hurricane Ike approaching Texas, small businesses in the affected area should learn from the experience of our peers in Los Angeles and prepare accordingly for possible disruptions in communications.