Hurricane and Earthquake Risks: How to Protect Your Commercial Property

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In August and September, Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria wreaked havoc in Texas, Florida1 and Puerto Rico,2 respectively, causing an estimated $362 billion worth of damage. While preparation may not provide complete protection, commercial-property owners and managers in areas prone to hurricanes — as well as earthquakes or other natural disasters — can mitigate property damage and personal-safety risks by taking precautions long before disaster strikes.

The primary way to ensure sufficient preparation for a natural disaster is to hire a licensed inspector to assess the threat your building faces. Owners and property managers may not realize that completing a hurricane or seismic retrofit before it’s needed is typically less expensive than making major structural repairs after the fact.3

Building managers should also review their property-insurance policy to ensure their buildings are adequately covered against major storm or seismic damage. Taking photographs or recording videos of the property before they’re damaged can be helpful when substantiating insurance claims afterward.

Proper education is key for protecting the safety and well-being of building occupants. Owners and property managers should remind tenants about emergency policies and procedures so they know how to respond. This includes informing building employees of their roles during and after an emergency so that they can respond swiftly and appropriately.

In addition to taking these steps, you can reference the following safety checklists in the event of a hurricane or earthquake.

Hurricane Safety Checklist

As soon as a hurricane warning is issued, check the interior and exterior of your commercial building and take the following steps to protect lives and property:

  • Board up glass doors and windows, or tape an “X” over them to prevent shattering.
  • Remove exterior displays, outdoor signs and other items that could become airborne in high winds.
  • Move all office equipment and furniture away from windows.
  • Relocate critical files and equipment to the innermost rooms, or transport them to another location away from the path of the storm.
  • Shut down noncritical building systems after all employees or tenants are evacuated.

Earthquake Safety Checklist

Earthquakes largely occur without warning, but taking the following steps before one hits can prevent additional damage and expense4:

  • Securely fasten computers, office machines and shop equipment so they don’t slide, roll across the floor or fall off their stands during an earthquake.
  • Keep copies of data backups off-site.
  • Ensure wall decorations, mirrors, hanging plants, fire extinguishers and other heavy objects are attached with closed-eye hooks so they can’t fall.
  • Brace and bolt tall filing cabinets, storage racks and shelving units to the wall or, if they are installed in rows, secure them to each other so they don’t topple.
  • Restrain containers of laboratory chemicals or other hazardous materials so that they don’t spill or slide off their shelves and break.
  • Securely brace movable partitions, especially if they support bookshelves or contain breakable glass.

When it comes to natural disasters, advance planning is critical, and that includes ensuring that a building’s interior and exterior ceilings are up to code. USG offers a range of wind-resistant and seismic-compliant ceilings solutions to meet these needs:

  • Four of USG’s exterior ceilings products recently received Notices of Acceptance (NOAs) from Miami-Dade County, Florida, which has some of the strictest building codes in the United States due to the severe weather the county faces, especially during hurricane season. For more information on our wind-resistant exterior-ceilings products, see our Exterior Ceiling Systems Guide.
  • USG has a portfolio of seismic-compliant ceiling suspension grids designed to provide life safety to occupants and maintain building function during and after an earthquake. For more information, visit our Seismic Solutions page.

Disclaimer: The information presented is correct to the best of our knowledge at the date of issuance. Because codes continue to evolve, check with a local official prior to designing and installing a ceiling system. Other restrictions and exemptions may apply. This is only intended as a quick reference.

Sources

1 “Forecast Predicts Heavy Economic Damage from Harvey, Irma,” U.S. News & World Report, 11 Sept. 2017, https://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2017-09-11/irma-harvey-forecast-to-do-290-billion-in-economic-damage.

2 “Puerto Rico’s Losses From Hurricane Maria May Top $72 Billion,” Fortune, 26 Sept. 2017, http://fortune.com/2017/09/26/hurricane-maria-puerto-rico-loses.

3 California Seismic Safety Commission, Commercial Property Owner’s Guide to Earthquake Safety, 2006, http://www.seismic.ca.gov/pub/CSSC_2006-02_COG.pdf.

4 Ibid.