The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) requires employers to comply with hazard-specific safety and health standards. In addition, pursuant to Section 5(a)(1) of the OSH Act, employers must provide their employees with a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm. Emergency Preparedness Guides do not and cannot enlarge or diminish an employer's obligations under the OSH Act.
Emergency Preparedness Guides are based on presently available information, as well as current occupational safety and health provisions and standards. The procedures and practices discussed in Emergency Preparedness Guides may need to be modified when additional, relevant information becomes available or when OSH Act standards are promulgated or modified.
An earthquake is a sudden, rapid shaking of the ground caused by the breaking and shifting of rock beneath the Earth's surface. This shaking can cause buildings and bridges to collapse; disrupt gas, electric, and phone service; and sometimes trigger landslides, avalanches, flash floods, fires, and huge, destructive ocean waves (tsunamis). Buildings with foundations resting on unconsolidated landfill, old waterways, or other unstable soil are most at risk. Buildings or trailers and manufactured homes not tied to a reinforced foundation anchored to the ground are also at risk since they can be shaken off their mountings during an earthquake. Earthquakes can occur at any time of the year.
When an earthquake occurs in a populated area, it may cause deaths and injuries and extensive property damage. Ground movement during an earthquake is seldom the direct cause of death or injury. Most earthquake-related injuries result from collapsing walls, flying glass, and falling objects as a result of the ground shaking, or people trying to move more than a few feet during the shaking. Much of the damage in earthquakes is predictable and preventable.
Aftershocks are smaller earthquakes that follow the main shock and can cause further damage to weakened buildings. After-shocks can occur in the first hours, days, weeks, or even months after the quake. Be aware that some earthquakes are actually foreshocks, and a larger earthquake might occur.
Collapsed structures are a common result of earthquakes. Rescue workers and emergency responders may have to enter collapsed structures to perform search and rescue activities, and it is vital that they perform their duties safely.
When internal load bearing structural elements fail, a building will collapse into itself and exterior walls are pulled into the falling structure. This scenario may be caused by construction activity, an earthquake or fire and may result in a dense debris field with a small footprint. Alternatively, if the structural failure is caused by an explosion or natural forces such as weather, the building may collapse in an outward direction resulting in a less dense and scattered debris field.
Following a catastrophic failure of a structure, rescue workers and emergency responders may be required to enter the collapsed structure. Emergency responders include firefighters, police, emergency medical technicians, construction workers and government representatives. Emergency responders may be responsible for assisting survivors, extinguishing fires, shutting off utilities, assessing structural instabilities, shoring-up safe paths into the structure and assessment of other hazards such as airborne contaminants. Rescue workers such as Urban Search and Rescue Teams focus on finding survivors and later removing victims from collapsed structures.
Although these catastrophic events may initially be quite chaotic, eventually site management will be under a unified command such as the recognized Incident Command Structure. Local responders and rescuers will obviously respond first with the State requesting Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assistance if warranted.
A trained Structures Specialist from Urban Search and Rescue will be responsible for:
Once the Incident Command System is established at a collapsed structure, the Incident Commander maintains accountability for all response personnel at the scene. A Safety Officer may also be mobilized and report directly to the Incident Commander. The Safety Officer is responsible for monitoring and assessing the safety aspects of the responders during the collapsed structure event. The Safety Officer's responsibilities may include:
The following hazards should be considered in order to protect rescue workers and emergency responders when preparing to enter a collapsed structure:
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