Structural Failure Generates Fears of Quake or Sinkhole; What Would You Do/Grab?

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Residents of a low-rise office building on Houston’s southeast side got a frightening surprise from a nasty jolt on Friday morning and many thought it was an earthquake or that maybe a sinkhole was about to swallow them up.  Turns out it was neither.  A retaining bolt on one of the building’s main support columns gave out causing the vertical face of the building to suddenly sag an inch or so which in turn immediately shattered several of the building’s very large, thick windows.  Snap, groan, crack – all at once.  And it happened right across the parking lot from our Houston HQ, about 30 yards from where I’m typing this now.

An evacuation was immediately called for and nearly 250 people – including a fully sedated dental patient – cleared out very quickly.  The question is, what was left behind?  What was left exposed, uncompleted, unsecured and possibly unrecoverable?

Click for the news story and video.

Even this morning the repairs continue (see photos below).  That we know of, there weren’t any permanent business losses but the key is to focus on how totally unexpected the day played out on Friday for those companies.  When each of those people arrived at work that day, who among them could have imagined such a thing was going to happen?

Another example?  The emergency room at downtown Houston’s St. Joseph Hospital had to immediately be evacuated yesterday morning after a formaldehyde leak was discovered.  Odds are that the hospital had a formal emergency response and evacuation plan and that the evacuation, although certainly stressful for patients, families and staff, was no doubt carried out in an orderly and structured fashion.

Finally, a pop quiz.  You’ve just been told to evacuate right now.  You have fewer than 10 seconds to decide, act on your decision and leave.  What would you grab?  (And yes, we’ve written about this before.  And will again.  Often.)  An informal poll here yielded these responses, although it’s probably not a statistically valid sample considering that all of us here work in BC/DR to one extent or another.

  • “My two external drives with all my archived projects. Grabbing those two wouldn’t even slow me down.”
  • “My purse.  My cell phone’s already in it.  Always.”
  • “My laptop.”
  • “My purse and this boxing reindeer somebody just gave me.”
  • “Everybody else, myself and my laptop.  In that order.”  (Definitely my favorite answer.  Things are nice but people are irreplaceable.)
  • Input from someone who’s much smarter than me.

So, the alarm goes off.  You have to get out NOW without even time to save your work before you turn off your computer.  What’s your plan?

Repairs continue today on the building next door. Photo: Fred Rogers

For information about creating a business continuity plan or perfecting the one you already have, email Mike Thomson at mthomson at or toll-free at 877 792-3220.

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