Experts: St. Louis Businesses Need Quake Preparation

Sat February 28, 2004 - Midwest Edition

ST. LOUIS (AP) If an earthquake hits, experts say the ability of a business to survive an earthquake may depend on its preparation for the disaster.

St. Louis sits along the New Madrid fault, which shook the region with the great earthquakes of 1811-1812 that could be felt as far away as New England.

Geologists believe there is a one-in-four chance that a significant earthquake will hit St. Louis in the next half-century.

In the past, most Midwest contractors built with little regard for earthquakes. The snug, brick flats lining the streets of Soulard in St. Louis are an example.

Buildings were constructed close together, without reinforcements.

Building codes were updated in the 1990s. Still, they were designed to make sure people, not companies, survive. Experts say business owners and landlords need to go beyond the codes.

Most people don’t believe the threat, said Jim Wilkinson, executive director of the Central United States Earthquake Consortium in Memphis, TN.

“Mitigation works, but you have to do it,” Wilkinson told about 25 business professionals last week during a conference on earthquake preparedness at Ameren Corp. in St. Louis.

“We have the tools and the technology to make change, positive change. But if we don’t go out there and engage other groups, we’re not going to see that change.”

Retrofitting walls and beams as well as anchoring computers and light fixtures can help to prevent damage, but such improvements can be expensive.

Engineers say prioritizing, completing changes during other renovations and asking for government help can reduce the cost.

“The most important thing is for you to plan,” said Mike Marx, a superintendent of business line performance at AmerenUE who spoke at the conference. “You have to walk through that thought process and plan what happens if it all falls apart around me.”

Another St. Louis business, the investment firm A.G. Edwards, has reinforced buildings and purchased special equipment to stabilize computers.

“We think we’ve improved our ability to react to the consequences of an earthquake, but there are still other steps we’d like to see taken by the community,” said John Adelsberger, a facilities team leader at the firm.

A.G. Edwards bought anchors for its data systems from WorkSafe Technologies, a manufacturer of seismic protection products and services.

“Most groups say, ’How do you react to a disaster?’ We say, ’How do you prepare for a disaster?’” said Mike Reilly, the Midwest representative for WorkSafe.

Experts also recommend making sure insurance coverage is up to date and that it includes recent purchases, such as equipment or technology, in case a company’s protection system fails.

Randy McConnell, a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Insurance, suggests using a commercial insurance broker and buying a package that includes ongoing expenses to pay rent and taxes during repairs.

“It doesn’t really matter if you can rebuild the building if you’re out of business,” McConnell said. “Many businesses just can’t suffer the shock, particularly in tough economic times.”