At Work When Disaster Strikes

My thoughts and heart have been with the people in Japan and those here in the US waiting to hear from loved ones all day. We here in CA have been watching the video coming out of Japan with horror and consternation. This was not some third world country with very lax building standards. Many of the structures destroyed were pretty new, and Japan has some of the most stringent building codes in the world. CA does too, but many of the buildings here are old. The bank building I used to work in and the apt where I live are both Depression-era buildings, retrofitted with earthquake strapping and rebar, but is it enough to withstand an 8.8 earthquake? I would guess not.

A few years back, we had a 5.6 earthquake hit east of LA. I was working at the bank building then, upstairs in a recruiting agency. The fire doors slammed shut, the building’s lighting system kicked over onto the generator, alarms started screaming and the computer system shut down. Some people scrambled to stand in a doorway, while others scurried under flimsy desks for protection. I watched the corners of the office go out of square while the floor dipped and the walls swayed. It only lasted for a few seconds, but there was serious chaos — the kind that I do not like. Even the native Californians didn’t know what to do and began to panic just as the shaking stopped. A good case for being prepared, as if there is ever enough preparation and readiness for a disaster like this.

Another time, at a different job, we had just finished renovating the office and upgrading a career center library with state-of-the-art computers and materials. The front of the center caught fire in the early hours of the morning when no one was there, and burnt theĀ career center library to ashes. Nothing in the front area came through the fire intact. Next morning, as I was standing outside the center, I looked down to see my feet on a charred book that was brand new and just put on the shelf the day before. When asked if any data could be recovered from my computer’s hard drive, the arson investigator pointed to a crumpled, ashy grey ball of plastic smaller than a softball and replied, “No.” My computer. The fire burned so hot, you could not even tell where the new computers had been. The monitors exploded and the plastic liquified and dripped from the desks. I am very glad I or no one else was there when the fire started.

We spend so much of our lives away from home and at work with our colleagues. I always have good intentions of being prepared, especially when I was not sure how my colleagues in previous positions would react in an emergency. Could I count on them? Not really sure about that. I know I can count on myself to get through an emergency — when given a chance, which I think the Japanese people did not get today. I am very happy this evening that all is quiet here in CA and that the ground is stable and not shaking. A very, very sad day today for Japan…

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