Friday, August 22, 2008

ERM-BC-COOP: NYC earthquake prone?

OK, you are in California sitting on a fault line.

You're looking for a safe alternate site.

New York, where else? No quakes there.

Well, maybe not quite.

According to "Earthquakes may endanger New York more than thought" at, "A study by a group of prominent seismologists suggests that a pattern of subtle but active faults makes the risk of earthquakes to the New York City area substantially greater than formerly believed. Among other things, they say that the controversial Indian Point nuclear power plants, 24 miles north of the city, sit astride the previously unidentified intersection of two active seismic zones."

Now it's not likely that a quake will hit both coasts at the same time, so while the alternate site in the Empire State still is valid, it does point out the need to thoroughly research alternate site locations before putting down a contract.

I am not a Nervous Nelly when it comes to nuclear power generating plants such as Indian Point - I used to comfortably live near Three Mile Island (TMI) and would do so again - but including earthquakes into the equation seems reasonable.

Granted, in the "normal" scheme of things, Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) practitioners will "prioritize" risks by probability and impact, and granted, the probability of an earthquake at TMI or Indian Point or Turkey Point is minimal, but the impact could be substantial.

As an ERM practitioner, I would be obliged to point out - loudly and in whatever manner that would get results - that "Houston, we have a potential problem" of some magnitude.

In this day and age, we know how to build earthquake-resistant (is there such a thing as "earthquake proof"?) structures; the Japanese do it routinely.

Because of the terrorist threat, and - going back to the "cold" war, the threat of enemy attack (the difference being rogue threat vs. state threat), n-plants are fairly well fortified.

The question: is "fortification" mutually exclusive with "earthquake-resistant?"

I'm not an architect or geo-physical scientist, but I am an ERM practitioner who knows that I need to find Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) - architects and geo-physical scientists, among others - who can provide the information I need.

As a relatively young reporter at the Harrisburg PA Patriot-News, I wrote enough copy about the pros and cons of TMI to fill a newspaper broadsheet page. As a reporter, it was my job to report, not editorialize. As an ERM practitioner, my job is to editorialize. And to promote my "educated opinion."

I hope I - we - are not "a voice crying in the wilderness" (a misquote and taken out of context as it happens) or that our voice falls on deaf ears as is, alas, too often is the case.

Should practitioners go around shouting "The sky is falling, the sky is falling" because someone wants to do something that is less than 100% safe.


And no.

In the case of the n-plant, if someone insists on building it on a fault, at least insist that the site be earthquake "tolerant" - that is, so that if a quake does happen, even in the "worst case" situation, danger to the people will be controlled.

The bottom line is that no matter what is proposed, and no matter where it is proposed, the ERM practitioners must do his or her in-depth homework - do more than just read back issues of the local paper (although that is a good resource) to ferret out all the risks, even the unlikely ones.

Risk management includes risk mitigation, in the case of the n-plant site selection, the location on a fault line can be mitigated by the structure's architecture.

(As an ERM practitioner, I would most assuredly have a couple of independent construction experts maintain close supervision of construction. I am not a "Nervous Nelly," but when the risk is as great as presented here, I am "suspicious.")

Trade-offs are OK, providing we have done our homework in-depth, and that means talking to all the SMEs, both locally and elsewhere.

But an earthquake in Manhattan?

Who would'a thought?

John Glenn, MBCI, SRP
Enterprise Risk Management/Business Continuity
Planner @

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