Forty percent of small businesses never reopen after a natural disaster and another 25% that reopen fail within a year, emergency management experts warned last week at a forum on how Santa Monica businesses can prepare for earthquakes.

Last month’s Ridgecrest earthquakes prompted local leaders to hold an information session for the city’s business community on how to protect buildings, employees and tenants from earthquakes and other hazards. Speakers at the forum told businesses that a 7.8 magnitude earthquake on the San Andreas Fault will cause $96 billion in business damages.

“The shaking will last two minutes, and your recovery will last a decade,” said Jeanne O’Donnell, a program manager at the Los Angeles County Office of Emergency Management.

Property owners must retrofit their buildings to minimize inevitable financial losses and keep their commercial tenants after an earthquake, said Ali Sahabi, CEO of the retrofitting company Optimum Seismic, Inc. Tenants have a responsibility to prepare as well, he said.

“The businesses in a multi-unit building typically have much more value than the building itself,” he said. “Therefore, tenants have as much at stake as the owners of the building do.”

But in Santa Monica, 77% of seismically vulnerable buildings have not yet been retrofitted, according to the city’s building and safety department. The city launched a seismic retrofit program two years ago that sets deadlines from August 2019 to October 2037 for different types of buildings.

Evan Reis, executive director of the United States Resiliency Council, said property owners will benefit financially in the long run by spending slightly more on retrofits that go beyond minimum safety requirements.

“Modern seismic codes focus on protecting lives, not on minimizing damage or facilitating recovery,” Reis said. “Going above the minimum code will make a building recoverable after an earthquake and only cost 1 to 2% more.”

Business owners can prepare for earthquakes by securing their inventory to shelves and walls, stocking disaster supplies that will last at least three days and creating a resiliency plan with their employees, said Lindsay Call, the city’s chief resiliency officer.

She said businesses should also be aware that a major earthquake will disrupt essential services for weeks, including water and sewer lines, airports and ports, and roads and transit.

For example, ruptured water mains in Southern California would cost $50 billion in lost economic activity and the Port of Los Angeles would operate at just 10% capacity for more than two weeks after the earthquake, Call said.

“Fifteen percent of trade coming into Southern California would be diverted to other ports, and it would not be recovered,” she said.

Call outlined local resiliency resources that businesses can take advantage of, including a three-day Community Emergency Response Team, or CERT, course that teaches citizens how to extinguish fires, conduct basic search and rescue operations and perform first aid. The city also operates an AM radio station, 1680 AM, which will disseminate information on shelters, supplies and road closures during an emergency.

She also asked businesses to sign a memorandum of understanding with the city to provide supplies after a disaster and join Santa Monica Organizations Active in Disaster, or SMOIAD, a coalition of local businesses, government agencies, non-profits and service organizations that strives to prepare the community before a disaster and pledges to serve after one.

Laurel Rosen, president and CEO of the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce, urged businesses to register for the 2019 California ShakeOut, a statewide earthquake drill that will take place at 10:17 a.m. on Oct. 17. Almost 8 million individuals in California will practice how to prepare for, respond to and recover from a major earthquake.

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