New IBHS Article Highlights Risks Posed by Fire Following Earthquakes

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Risk of fire following an earthquake often gets overshadowed by other equally serious quake-related issues, such as ground shaking, landslides, surface faults, and tsunamis.

IBHS’ new article, After the Shaking Stops: A Communitywide Approach to Managing Post-Quake Fires, identifies the factors that communities should evaluate to help determine their risk for fire following earthquake.

A new article from the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety asserts that the risk of fire following an earthquake often gets overshadowed by other equally serious quake-related issues, such as ground shaking, landslides, surface faults, and tsunamis.

“Earthquakes are a destructive, unpredictable force of nature that can cause truly catastrophic damage to entire cities or regions,” said Julie Rochman, president & CEO, IBHS. “Several studies focused on fire following earthquake paint a somber picture of likely consequences.”

The greatest concern centers on preventing spot or smaller fires from growing into conflagrations, which consume large areas, and can result in high fatality and injury rates. Fortunately, taking proactive measures to reduce the number of ignitions can significantly reduce the risk of fire in the aftermath of a major earthquake.

“It is critical to take steps that can reduce the number of fire ignitions following earthquakes, particularly in areas with greater potential for fires to become conflagrations,” Rochman said. “IBHS’ new article, After the Shaking Stops: A Communitywide Approach to Managing Post-Quake Fires, identifies the factors that communities should evaluate to help determine their risk for fire following earthquake.”

Rochman added that this is an excellent time for communities to consider the risk of post-quake fire as California, Idaho, Nevada and Oregon prepare to hold Great Shakeout earthquake drills on October 20 – so more than 8 million people will be focused on these issues as they drill an practice how best to survive a quake.

According to the IBHS’ literature survey and analysis, there are several ways to reduce the risk of fire following earthquake. Not surprisingly, reducing shake damage to a building in the first place is one of the best ways to reduce the potential for ignitions. In addition, other methods of reducing fire ignitions from earthquakes include:

  •     using modern arc fault circuit interrupters to avoid electrical fires;
  •     using flexible connections for gas-fired appliances; and
  •     addressing the vulnerability of high pressure gas lines inside buildings.

Other steps to prepare the interior of a building, such as securing heat sources, including appliances, lamps, and water heaters that could fall over and spark a fire also help reduce the risk of damage. Installing automatic gas shut-off valves also can control ignitions in densely built-up areas, along with using seismically designed automatic fire sprinkler systems. Structural preparations include addressing known building vulnerabilities by anchoring a home to its foundation and strengthening cripple walls to helps reduce the potential for ignitions.

Further guidance on structural and non-structural retrofits that reduce earthquake damage can be found in the IBHS publications, “Earthquake Risks around the U.S. - How to Protect Your Property” and “Reduce Six Common Earthquake Risks for Less than $70.”

To arrange an interview with IBHS, contact Joseph King at 813-675-1045/813-442-2845, jking(at)ibhs(dot)org or via direct message on Twitter @jsalking.

About IBHS
IBHS is an independent, nonprofit, scientific and educational organization supported by the property insurance industry. The organization works to reduce the social and economic effects of natural disasters and other risks to residential and commercial property by conducting research and advocating improved construction, maintenance and preparation practices.

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