Wake up call for Middle East as earthquake hits Iran

The earthquake that struck Iran on Tuesday 9th April was felt throughout the UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar.  Although it only registered 6.1 on the Richter scale it was apparently shallow resulting in the shocks being felt throughout the Middle East.  High-rise buildings swayed and shook with some buildings in Bahrain, UAE, Qatar and Kuwait being evacuated. 

Our very own MD – Sam Mulholland happened to be visiting a client in one of the taller buildings in Bahrain that was evacuated.  The evacuation was executed successfully and only took about 25 minutes.  However, everyone left the building with nothing more than their mobile phones and tenants were not allowed back into the building until it had been checked by structural engineers which took 14 hours.   The knock on effect of this mass evacuation and companies letting their staff leave to go home (the earthquake had struck at 3.00pm local time) was a traffic gridlock in the area. 

The whole incident has highlighted issues that companies need to think about when an incident takes place. 

  • Logistics in evacuating to a DR site.  If it had been a major earthquake the civil defence may well shut down bridges until they have been deemed safe resulting in major traffic congestion and people unable to travel.
  • Disaster events can happen with no warning so you may not have time to grab critical documents and laptops.
  • Reclaimed land is subject to liquefaction which results in land turning to a soup like texture.  This leads to buildings toppling or leaning and underground services such as data and power cables rising to the surface.
  • Do not depend on cell phone networks they often fail due to traffic and overloading.
  • People become confused and distressed without a plan to deal with such an event.  Confusion sets in and business as usual becomes hard to achieve.
  • Strong and decisive leadership is important.  Knowing what to do based on a BC Plan is critical.

The day after the event Sam was at a client’s site and a Senior Manager said to him “Sam, we now know what you were saying and everything you said would happen did”.

Earthquakes are not something people worry about in the Middle East however with fault lines running all down the west coast of Iran who’s to say that countries in the region won’t be affected.  According to the Earthquake Track site there have been 33 earthquakes in the Persian Gulf in the last year ranging from the 6.3 down to a 4.0 magnitude in the last 10 months.  Many GCC countries are flat with most areas only a few metres above sea level.  The majority of the built up areas are on reclaimed land.  The official regulatory clearance level in Bahrain is 0.5 metres.   Surely even a very small surge in water from an earthquake would have a detrimental effect on the area.  Another concern is the fact that this most recent quake was only 90kms from the nuclear power plant in Bushehr, what kind of catastrophe would that have created in the region if that had been damaged.  Remember Chernobyl and the Fukushima disasters.