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Get a move on fortifying quake plans

Special to The Times

When the Chino Hills earthquake hit July 29, Heidi Gallegos was having lunch with an associate in nearby Diamond Bar.

“Once the jolt hit, we were, like, frozen and watching the doors, thinking ‘Do we stay or do we go?’ ” said Gallegos, chief executive of the Regional Chamber of Commerce -- San Gabriel Valley.

A mile south on Diamond Bar Boulevard, diners at the Whole Enchilada were “in shock,” General Manager Sandy Ball said.

“The scariest part was the shaking continued to get worse and worse,” said the longtime employee of the restaurant, which is part of a small chain. “At that point everybody was ready to get under the tables.”

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The magnitude 5.4 quake shook a clock off a wall, knocked loose a few ceiling panels and toppled some items in the walk-in freezer, she said.

“We were very fortunate,” said Ball, who was at the restaurant during the 1987 Whittier Narrows quake, a magnitude 5.9, and the aftermath of the 1994 Northridge earthquake, a magnitude 6.7.

The establishment previously had glued knickknacks to shelves in the dining room. The cooks’ areas also are kept as secure as possible, she said. Employees are trained in CPR.

Simple steps like these can help a small-business owner minimize damage and injury in the next earthquake or other emergency, experts said.

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“I think every small business is having that discussion now,” Gallegos said.

Last month’s quake was 1% the size of the Northridge earthquake, said Mark Benthien, director of outreach for the Southern California Earthquake Center and coordinator for Earthquake Country Alliance.

Benthien, who was in an earthquake planning meeting when the jolt hit, is hoping the quake will encourage wider participation in the largest earthquake drill in U.S. history: the Great Southern California Shake Out on Nov. 13.

“We’ve been providing information to Southern California about how to prepare for earthquakes for many years and most people still have not become prepared,” he said. The drill envisions a 7.8 magnitude earthquake striking Southern California along the San Andreas Fault. Shaking in downtown Los Angeles would last 55 seconds -- eight times longer than the Northridge quake.

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Small businesses can register free online at www.shakeout.org. Next month, drill organizers will release a 16-page booklet outlining seven steps businesses can take to survive and recover from an earthquake or other disaster.

To check your earthquake preparedness IQ, take this true-false quiz, which was put together with the help of disaster expert Ines Pearce, CEO of Pearce Global Partners in Los Angeles and lead writer of the booklet. If you need a booster course, visit a disaster prep website, such as the alliance’s www.daretoprepare.org/why secure.html.

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1. Experts recommend that my small business has enough emergency supplies to last 24 hours.

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False. Emergency preparation groups say your business should be prepared to provide for stranded or injured employees for at least three days. Some advise being ready to hunker down for as long as two weeks before help arrives.

2. When a quake hits, head for the nearest doorway.

False. This belief is common but out of date. Teach employees to drop, cover and hold: drop to the ground, take cover under a table or desk and hold onto it, or cover their heads with their arms. Running while the ground shakes is dangerous. Standing in a doorway in the belief that such areas are stronger raises your risk of being struck by a swinging door.

3. Collapsing buildings cause most U.S. earthquake injuries.

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False. Only about 1% of the injuries from the Northridge quake were caused by building damage, a UCLA study found. Falling furniture or objects caused 55% of injuries.

4. There are no laws that say I have to prepare my small business for an earthquake.

True, for now. At the federal level, work is starting on developing disaster preparedness standards and an accreditation and certification program for businesses. It would be voluntary. But Pearce predicts the voluntary status eventually will become mandatory, at least for firms that want to do business with government agencies.

5. Government grants are available to get my small business back on its feet after a disaster.

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False. Loans guaranteed by the federal government through the Small Business Administration are the most common source of disaster funds for small firms. Most small businesses will have to be prepared to cover at least several weeks, if not more, of costs with potentially no revenue, before any loan funds arrive.

6. The most important item to protect in my small business is my data.

False. That’s No. 2. First comes employee safety.

7. As a small business, I will have a tougher time than a big business finding and paying for the expertise I need to prepare for a disaster.

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False. As a small business, your needs are less complex, and typically less expensive. Free or low-cost advice on how to prepare for a disaster is available online, as well as on the shelves at your local library or bookstore.

8. It’s a waste of my time to devote limited resources to an earthquake plan.

False. Working your way through such a plan will position your company to survive any type of emergency, such as a major quake or losing power when a truck hits a transformer down the street. You’ll also have key customer, financial and employee data protected.

9. The chances that an earthquake will affect my Southern California small business in my lifetime are slim.

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False. “This is not a ‘What if?’ It’s a ‘When?’ ” Benthien said.

10. The potential damage from a major quake is so great it won’t matter whether I plan.

False. “It’s a lot to consider, but the alternative is to risk everything for a business,” Benthien said. “Do you want to take that risk?”

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cyndia.zwahlen@latimes.com


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