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Monday, 29 October 2007 00:27

Velcro Given High Marks in San Francisco

Written by  Erin Dugan Meluso
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Last January, DRJ published a product profile on VELCRO (R)’s new specialty fastener, tagged Quake/Grip TM, which was rapidly becoming visible in corporate and government offices. Developed in prototype by Pacific Bell, Quake/Grip is a high-strength, flexible restraint system for securing office, hospital, and lab equipment.

On October 17, 1989, Pacific Bell had an unwelcome, but valuable, opportunity to assess the fruits of its R&D efforts when the 7.1 Loma Prieta earthquake shook Northern California. “Equipment secured with Quake/Grip held as firm as if it were nailed down,” said Bill Sambito, San Francisco Bay Area Emergency Preparedness Manager for Pacific Bell, “but we lost a few computers where we didn’t install it.”

Now, a full two months after the so-called “World Series” quake struck San Francisco, not a single Quake/Grip-related loss was recorded from any Bay Area installation. Reports indicate that the fasteners were 100% effective at securing a diverse machine population throughout the affected area.

“San Francisco was a heck of a good test for Quake/Grip,” said Dick Gilman, Supervisor, Instrument Installation and Repair Department at Kaiser Foundation Hospitals in Los Angeles, “everything fastened down with it came through totally unscathed.”

Gilman said Kaiser’s Santa Clara facility, which is near the quake’s epicenter, “lost no equipment” although “they did lose minor unsecured things, like test tube racks that fell to the floor.”

Life/Safety Issues

While sustained operations and contents-loss mitigation was crucial to an independent utility like Pacific Bell, it was the life/safety benefits of fasteners that emerged from Paul Estess’experiences as CEO of Watsonville Community Hospital.

After the hospital evacuated, Estess noted that unsecured file drawers “accelerated and flew.” Velcro fasteners were installed on the flip-up doors fronting vertical files. Despite “no positive latches, the fasteners kept the doors from flying open. On our standard file cabinets—all the interlocking systems universally failed. It was a very dangerous situation.”

No patients were injured in the quake, but Watsonville Hospital did have a close call when an unsecured television set flew off a shelf and landed on the foot of a patient’s bed. Offices have similar risks. “Fastners like Quake/Grip can be quite efficient to prevent damage from things like flying typewriters,” said Richard Eisner, Director of Bay Area Regional Earthquake Preparedness Project (BAREPP) for the Governor’s office.

Clay Sealy, Emergency Preparedness Coordinator at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, a major Quake/Grip user, commented on another office safety benefit of fastening equipment: “It keeps exit routes open; hallways remain clear when things don’t fall on the floor.”

Business Interruption

Structural failures like the disaster on the double-decked Nimitz Freeway get a lot of media attention and generate huge dollar-volume loss statistics, but they only tell a fraction of the story. By implementing non-structural mitigation techniques, offices, labs, and schools in the impact zone could have prevented costly “soft loss” from business interruption caused by earthquake damage to building contents.

“Some instruments walked off the benches and crashed; some could have been saved by Velcro’s system,” said Harry Guy, Manager of Safety and Environmental Services at Syntex. Only “partway through a master plan to secure everything,” he’s glad that “this quake was only a dress rehearsal for the big one.”

To share resources and information with other high tech companies, Harry Guy and Bob Lanning of Hewlett Packard co-founded P.R.E.P.—Peninsula Roundtable for Earthquake Preparedness. The founding firms, along with Apple, Kaiser Permanente, Intel, Ford Aerospace, Stanford University, IBM, U.S. Sprint, and Lockheed Missiles, among other members, recently negotiated a group purchase of Quake/Grip.

UC San Francisco sustained $500,000 worth of internal-contents damage. UCSF Contingency Planning Manager, Michael Barbaneli, thinks they were lucky: “We have tens of thousands of PCs. Fortunately none jumped, although micros and bench top equipment danced.” Quake/Grip is now in the UCSF stores as well as at UCLA and UC Berkeley.

First Response

Emergency services, such as fire, police, and paramedics can ill afford any “business interruption” during an earthquake. “Non-structural damage happens earlier than structural damage; things generally fall before walls fall,” said Kent Paxton, Area Coordinator for Emergency Services, San Mateo Operational Area.

“Desk-top communications equipment, PCs, and computer terminals should be fastened 1) to remain operational in a crisis, 2) to prevent employee injuries, and 3) to reduce equipment losses to the county at a time when too many other losses are occuring,” says Paxton. To this end, his joint-power, 20 city/county group includes Quake/Grip as an integral part of preparedness planning.

In Ventura County, Calif., Jan Smith at the Office of Emergency Services says, “We look at non-structural mitigation two ways, the injury potential and long-term recovery. Replacement tends to be the real long-term problem, not only the cost, but availability.” To avoid this “economic aftershock, Ventura’s very strong on Quake/Grip—almost mandating it,” said Smith.

Cost Benefits

William Gates, an Associate at Dames & Moore, a leading consulting firm for environmental and geostructural engineering, advises client firms to determine a level of acceptable risk—be it loss of data, equipment outages, and downtime. After a vulnerability review, he recommends the steps to mitigate those risks that exceed acceptable levels. Securing equipment is high on the list.

Stanford University lost about $100,000 worth of unsecured lab equipment, but office areas weren’t impacted, according to Risk Management chief Bob Beth. For security reasons, hard-drives were attached to desk tops with Anchor Pads, but none of the monitors were fastened. Security restraint products are “too costly,” said Beth, “the price isn’t worth it.”

Kaiser had a similar experience, with a different outcome. “We went through all sorts of elaborate things, even spring-loaded hooks on tables,” said Gilman. With 5000 instruments in the region and “constant changes,” Gilman’s team was hard pressed “to keep up in terms of time, manpower and dollars.” His solution: “Using Quake/Grip, we can move, reinstall, and relocate instruments in a low cost, low tech, no-bolts, no-motors manner. It’s the best thing I’ve seen.”

Employee Support

Employees welcome preparedness activities initiated in their behalf. Non-structural mitigation is particularly appreciated since uniform building codes only provide minimum standards of life safety. High rises—built to flex and sway—amplify the shaking intensity of a quake.

Libby Rodriguiz, a Special Services Supervisor at Pacific Bell, says her employees were so receptive to the company’s concern for their safety that volunteers teamed together to secure everyone’s terminal with Quake/Grip. They got the job done in less than three days, and all rested easier knowing that they could safely take refuge under their desks in an emergency.

Business recovery is based on employee safety and helping employees secure their homes so they’ll stay at work,” says Tom Brown, retired Fire Captain and emergency preparedness consultant. Along with preparedness videos for the entire family, he demonstrates Quake/Grip during corporate training programs for IBM, Honda, and Allstate.

Even the U.S. Navy is commenting on Quake-Grip performance after testing the fasteners at sea. Restraint systems are commonplace aboard ships where earthquake conditions can prevail 24 hours a day. The battleship Missouri recently reported that not a single item fastened with Quake/Grip budged an inch during a monster 41 degree roll off Japan.

While nothing can be done to stop earthquakes, much can and should be done to prepare for them. A little knowledge and preparation can dramatically increase your ability to protect both your property and your life in a major earthquake.

As Barbara Poland, a preparedness/business resumption consultant to Fortune 500 firms, says, “Overall, major corporations are doing full emergency preparedness programs that include disaster recovery planning. Going into the ’90s—with expectations of a downsized economy, automotive layoffs, and a tightening real estate market—nobody can afford to be out of business during recovery.”

Written by Erin Dugan Meluso, Velcro USA

This article adapted from Vol. 3, No. 1, p. 34.

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