Your Warehouse and Seismic Activity (you know, Earthquakes!)

Unless you live in Southern California, it isn’t likely you’ve thought much about earthquakes. But if you are in the warehouse industry or utilize any type of new or used pallet racking system, then yes, you should be thinking about seismic activity.

I mentioned this in another post, but according to the USGS, 42 of the 50 states have a reasonable chance of experiencing seismic activity that could damage buildings within the next 50 years. In fact, earlier this summer, there was a 5.1 magnitude earthquake in North Carolina. It damaged buildings and was felt as far away as Atlanta.

But the part that’s really notable is it’s the strongest quake to hit that area in 100 years. In short, nobody thought about it, until it happened. Well, nobody besides experts – if you look on the map above, you’ll see half of NC is around the middle of the hazard scale (image credit USGS).

Thanks to technology, we know much more about seismic activity than we did just a few short decades ago. In fact, most places have a much higher seismic risk than the general public is likely aware of. Some of our north-central states (Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, etc.) are looking reasonably stable. Everywhere else? Not as much as you probably think.

Since racking is considered building-like structures by the International Building Code (especially if attached to a building anywhere), many locales have modified their building codes and regulations to follow increased seismic risk profiles.

However, the fact remains that there are no “official” national standards. And if a locale is behind the times in this area, it could lead to issues if Seismic factors are not taken into consideration when purchasing new (or used) warehouse racks.

Regardless of an area’s codes, it’s advantageous for a company to invest in a seismic survey, and make sure their racks are built to reasonably withstand that “once every 100 years” earthquake. Because if the racks are not, it could be very, very costly. Goods can be damaged, and equipment can be damaged. Will insurance cover the loss? We’ll let the adjuster (undoubtedly showing up with a detailed seismic map) figure that out.

But aside from costs and equipment being damaged, there is also the human factor to consider. It is the responsibility of the business / building owner to provide a safe workplace. Utilizing a substandard new or used pallet rack (or similar) could directly lead to injury and even death. And even in the absence of regulations, liability could still be an issue. Here’s why: We know a lot more about seismic activity and an area’s seismic profile than we used to. Saying “hey, we followed the code” might not be enough to relieve one of liability if a court feels reasonable measures were not followed. All it takes is one case in one locale to set a precedent.

Bottom line: thanks to science, we know all about the seismic risk in every inch of the US. Your new or used warehouse racks should be built to meet these risks, whether a local code requires it or not.

Next Level can help you here, because not only do we handle seismic engineering, we also build our racks to exceed the specifications of the Rack Manufacturers Institute (RMI). If we can help you, give us a shout.