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Catastrophe Risk Management

Facility Damage Evaluation Following Major Disasters

Nathan Gould | May 10, 2008

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Earthquake building damage

Events such as extreme windstorms, earthquakes, and floods severely stress the resources of most cities and counties in addressing the needs of the general population following a major disaster. Municipal authorities may not be prepared to assist the vast number of businesses, building owners, and tenants following a major disaster in assessing the safety condition of their buildings in order to issue re-occupancy permits, or to allow immediate progress toward the restoration of the businesses to normal operations without an engineering inspection.

The majority of businesses and institutions will often be left to rely on their own resources following a major disaster. One proactive approach for businesses and institutions involves the creation of a facility damage evaluation plan as part of a comprehensive emergency response plan. The facility evaluation plan may result in the preparation of a Post-Disaster Facility Inspection Manual (in paper and/or electronic format) which designates qualified personnel to inspect, document, and determine the safety level of impacted facilities.

Pre-Disaster Activities

Pre-disaster activities related to the development of a Post-Disaster Facility Inspection Manual are as important as the activities that will be undertaken following any type of significant event. Similar to standard emergency preparedness plans, it is important to have a comprehensive, well-defined facility evaluation plan that is exercised and updated on a regular basis.

The following pre-disaster activities are typically considered to be essential as part of the development of a Post-Disaster Facility Inspection Manual.

Identification of Facilities

Identify the buildings, equipment, and other facilities that are to be covered in the Facility Inspection Manual. For large complexes and/or where available resources are limited, it may be practical to only include critical facilities in the post-disaster evaluation manual.

Develop Emergency Contact List

Assemble detailed contact lists with primary and secondary contact information for all parties who will participate in a post-disaster facility evaluation. Given that individuals on the contact list may not be accessible after an event, it is important to have primary, secondary, and possibly tertiary contacts for each major task.

Initial Data Collection

Collect and organize architectural and structural drawings for each building included in the post-disaster inspection plan. To provide redundancy, these documents should be stored in multiple locations in both hard copy and electronic media formats.

Preliminary Facility Surveys

Perform preliminary surveys of each of the selected buildings and facilities to be included in the Post-Disaster Facility Inspection Manual. This effort should allow the designated qualified personnel to become familiar with the facilities, understand the critical functional aspects of the buildings through discussions with facility and business continuity managers, preliminarily identify any obvious vulnerabilities, and request available selected design documents of the building structures for use during the post-disaster surveys. This initial survey data can be used in preparing the necessary documentation prior to the disaster for use during the post-disaster inspections and evaluations.

Involve Local Contacts

Contact local jurisdiction building departments, code enforcement, emergency management agencies (county and state), local utilities, etc., to notify them that a Post-Disaster Facility Inspection plan is in place for the selected facilities. Pre-disaster involvement of the local emergency contacts and building officials will provide a more effective and efficient post-disaster response.

Develop Post-Disaster Facility Inspection Manual

Inspection sheets should be pre-filled out with as much basic information as possible prior to inclusion in the binder to allow for more rapid and convenient use in the field. The overall plan and inspection process may closely follow the methodology developed as part of the Applied Technology Council ATC-20 "Post Earthquake Safety Evaluation of Buildings" program or other similar programs.

Inspection Placards Based on Applied Technology Council, ATC-20 "Post Earthquake Safety Evaluation of Buildings"

Inspection Placards Based on Applied Technology Council, ATC-20 Post Earthquake Safety Evaluation of Buildings

Post-Disaster Activities

Post-disaster procedures and activities, which may be undertaken in the highly charged, often chaotic atmosphere of disaster response, will need be detailed yet flexible to accommodate unforeseen issues. Activation procedures, guidance for post-disaster building inspections and surveys, and procedures for the preparation of inspection documentation are the minimum components that need to be included in the Post-Disaster Facility Inspection Manual.

Post-Disaster Activation of Facility Inspection

Following the procedures specified in the Post-Disaster Inspection Manual and/or a comprehensive emergency response plan, activate the facility inspection plan through a primary and secondary means of notification.

Post-Disaster Facility Inspection and Surveys

Each selected facility should be visually walked down by qualified personnel with the aid of the pre-prepared facility data contained in the Post-Disaster Facility Inspection Manual. As soon as possible after the triggering event, visual inspections should be made of the perimeter of the buildings and immediately accessible areas. Recommendations may include a more in-depth engineering assessment at a later date, emergency shoring or means for repair, posting certain areas as unsafe, etc. Appropriate building tagging is applied to the building structure to document the results of the inspection and to provide appropriate occupancy restrictions.

Survey notes, sketches, and digital photographs should be used to document any observed damage, and will form the basis for any further recommended actions.

Facility Inspection Reports Documentation and Local Jurisdiction Filing

A brief preliminary summary report should be prepared for each facility that is surveyed. Adequate documentation is critical not only to satisfy requirements of local jurisdictions, but will also be valuable in terms of monitoring any progression of damage if there are subsequent follow-on events. These reports may need to be filed with the local jurisdiction depending on the municipality requirements.


Having a post-disaster facility evaluation plan is critical for businesses and institutions that require continuity of operations following a major disaster. An effective facility evaluation plan should include the preparation of a Post-Disaster Facility Inspection Manual that will assist qualified personnel in the inspection, documentation, and designation of the safety level of impacted facilities.

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