Monday, October 3, 2016

Guest blog: ag industry should prepare for the Big One, too

Steven Friederich
Washington Military Department

Every October leaves change, the air grows cooler and for many in the agriculture industry, harvest season is coming to close before preparing for the upcoming winter months.

October also marks earthquake preparedness month across Washington State, and this year more than 1 million people will be practicing their drop, cover and hold on skills during the Great Washington ShakeOut earthquake drill at 10:20 a.m. on Oct. 20.

Practice May Save a Life

Brian Terbush, the earthquake/volcano program coordinator for the Washington Emergency Management Division, is asking farmers, ranchers and others in the ag industry to practice their earthquake preparedness skills on a date that works best for them if the typical third Thursday in October doesn’t pan out.

According to the state’s Emergency Management Division, practicing these emergency response skills helps build muscle memory. When the ground does start shaking, it’s better to automatically remember to drop, cover and hold on rather than panicking and bolting out the door or standing in place.

Registration helps us track the number of people participating, but isn’t required to practice your skills. You can show you are participating by registering at

Earthquakes on the Farm

So, what happens if you’re on a tractor or a combine in the middle of a field?

If you feel the earth start to shake, stop at a safe spot. Avoid power lines, trees, signs, buildings, vehicles and other hazards. Turn off the engine and stay in the farm equipment until the shaking stops. Similar advice goes for when driving a pickup or car, as well.

For cranberry farmers or others on the coast, once the shaking stops, head to high ground because a tsunami may be on the way. The state Department of Natural Resources offers tsunami inundation maps to help you figure out the safe routes to take and if your property is in a tsunami inundation zone.

Earthquakes in Food Processing Facilities

What if you’re in a processing facility or have a lot of machinery around?

The first step is to make sure your hazardous materials are properly labeled and to make sure you and your employees know where they are located ahead of time. Terbush suggests conducting periodic drills/orientations/walkthroughs with workers to point out and go over areas which may or may not be safe during an Earthquake, so that hopefully the knowledge of what is safe and unsafe to be near during an earthquake (just like we suggest staying away from windows and objects that could fall during an earthquake).  In addition, look to see if any equipment can be stabilized by being bolted to the walls, just like we suggest with water heaters in your home.

If there’s nowhere to duck under, get as low to the ground as possible and protect your neck with your hands. Quickly move to safety once the shaking stops, as aftershocks could be soon follow.

Business As Unusual After a Quake

Earthquakes can damage/destroy your business’ infrastructure and interrupt the delivery of resources your business depends on.

Tristan Allen, the state Emergency Management Division’s private industry program manager, says creating a business continuity plan that outlines your strengths and weaknesses is essential and provides some fundamental guidance for actions to be taken in the event of a disaster. Where would you operate if your physical facilities are damaged or destroyed? What is the plan if your distribution and supply chain are disrupted? The EMD’s Private Industry Program hosts a number of links on their website that may be of help.

Agriculture and the food industry are critical to our state's recovery after an earthquake. By preparing today, you'll not only potentially save the lives of loved ones and employees, but your business and the state will more quickly recover in the case of such a catastrophe.

Steven Friederich is a guest blogger from the Washington Military Department, where he is the Digital Media Coordinator.