Earthquakes Call for Electrical Assessments

Earthquakes Call for Electrical Assessments

This piece was originally published as part of the “When Disaster Strikes” feature in the September 2016 issue of electroindustry

Mike Stone, West Coast Field Representative, NEMA

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The Napa, California, earthquake in 2014 left 70,000 residents without electrical power. Photo courtesy of the City of Sebastopol, California

Earthquake! On August 24, 2014, at 3:20 a.m., I was awakened by strong shaking. As always, it came with no warning.

The Napa, California, earthquake was centered about 40 miles from where I live. The 6.0 magnitude quake did upwards of $1 billion damage, left 70,000 residents without electrical power, and caused one fatality.

On the West Coast and in California in particular, wildfires, floods, and earthquakes are the three most common disasters. Although earthquakes are the least common of these three, they cause the most property damage—in the long run averaging almost twice the dollar amount of flooding costs. Since 1971, there have been 207 earthquake-related deaths in the U.S., 200 of which were in California. The others were in Hawaii, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. Also since 1971, earthquakes have caused $60 billion in property damage in California alone.

According to the Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research Center, the major causes of outages during earthquakes are failures of circuit breakers, transformer bushings, and disconnect switches at substations.

California has a robust emergency response program that includes 6,000 trained and certified disaster service worker (DSW) volunteers who assess damage after natural disasters. I have been a certified DSW since the mid-90s. The focus of this program is earthquakes, since typically they have the most potential for widespread serious damage.

After a major earthquake event, building and fire officials always appreciate help from construction experts, including those who can properly assess electrical installations—NEMA field representatives’ area of expertise.

I stand ready to assist after the next event, especially in evaluating damage to electrical equipment.

Read the September 2016 issue of electroindustry.

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