Earthquakes in QLD – What Strata Communities Need to Know

By October 19, 2021Insurance, Safety

The partial collapse of a building front in Melbourne following a recent earthquake is a warning against complacency about a risk for which Queensland strata residents are generally unprepared.

Australia does not typically experience large earthquakes like New Zealand or the US West Coast and on average only experiences a single magnitude 5 (or greater) event each year.

Historically however, it is the smaller earthquakes near densely populated areas that have caused the most damage in Australia rather than larger ones that have occurred in remote areas.

Understanding whether you are in an earthquake prone area is important so that you can take measures to reduce the potential impacts and know what to do during a disaster.

What is an Earthquake?

Earthquakes are the vibrations caused by rocks breaking under stress. The underground surface along which the rock breaks and moves is called a fault plane. Depending on the size of the earthquake, strong and potentially destructive ground shaking may occur up to tens or even hundreds of kilometres from an earthquake epicentre.

Earthquakes can also trigger secondary events such as landslides, tsunamis and fires caused by downed power lines and ruptured gas mains

Earthquakes in Queensland

University of Queensland research indicates that Queensland’s highest earthquake hazard areas are located along the populated eastern coast and near offshore regions.

Earthquakes with magnitudes of less than 3.5 seldom cause damage. The two largest recorded earthquakes in Queensland were Gladstone in 1918 with a magnitude of 6.3, and Gayndah in 1935 measuring a magnitude of 6.1.

Earthquakes with the potential to cause serious damage or fatalities (ML > 5) have occurred on average about every 5 years during the last century with several near misses to the State’s large population centres.

Just because a significant earthquake has not impacted Queensland in recent memory, that this does not mean it cannot happen. Earthquakes represent a rare but ever-present risk strata communities across Queensland.

Earthquake Damages

All modern buildings in Australia are designed to withstand earthquakes and all sorts of seismic activity. The relative youth of our building stock, combined with effective building codes and standards, greatly reduces the likelihood of widespread destruction. However, localised earthquake damage may still be severe or fatal within an affected community.

Additionally, Earthquakes can instigate multiple secondary hazards of which fires, caused by downed power lines or gas leaks, can be the most dangerous. This is most likely where water supply has been damaged and roads blocked by debris, making it difficult for emergency services to effectively respond.

There is potential for loss of life and serious injury, especially electrocution, from fallen power lines and exposed electrical circuitry. The demand to ‘make safe’ may overwhelm local capability and extend the duration of localised power outages.

Toxic material can leak from ruptured containers or pipes, adversely affecting the health of people, animals and the environment. Health problems also can arise from power outages, leaking sewage, interrupted water supply and from stress-related responses.

Damage and impact

The impact of earthquakes is dependent on their scale as outlined below:

Magnitude Intensity and impacts
2.5 or less Usually not felt, but can be recorded by seismograph
2.6 to 5.4 Often felt, but only causes minor damage
5.5 to 6.0 Slight damage to buildings and other structures
6.1 to 6.9 May cause a lot of damage in very populated areas
7.0 to 7.9 Major earthquake, serious damage
8.0 or greater Great earthquake, can destroy communities near the epicentre

 

Managing the Risks from Earthquakes

Just because a significant earthquake has not impacted Queensland in recent memory, that this does not mean it cannot happen.

Earthquakes represent a rare but ever-present risk that strata communities need to manage.

Mitigating Strategies

If your building is an area prone to seismic activity – how can your strata community mitigate against the increased risks of earthquakes?

Step 1 – Check with your local council

Contact your local council to see if earthquakes have ever occurred in your area and what damage resulted.

Or check out this “Quake Map” from the University of Queensland to see if your building is located in an area that experiences a comparatively high level of seismic activity.

Step 2 – Have a Plan 

Make a household emergency and evacuation plan for your strata complex.

Step 3 – Pack Supplies 

Pack your household emergency and evacuation kits.

Step 4 – Make Sure You Are Covered

Check with your insurer that your strata property is fully covered in the event of an earthquake. By law your strata property should be insured for the full replacement value of the building and covered in the event of earthquake damages.

Responding to an Earthquake

What to do during an earthquake?

  • DROP to the ground; take COVER by getting under a sturdy table; and HOLD ON until the shaking stops.
  • Stay in bed if you are there when the earthquake strikes. Hold on and protect your head with a pillow.
  • Do not use a doorway except if you know it is a strongly supported, load-bearing doorway and it is close to you.
  • Do not use the elevators. Do not take shelter near any glass, windows, outside doors and walls, and anything that could fall.
  • Stay inside until the shaking stops and it is safe to go outside.
  • If outdoors, stay there. Move away from buildings, streetlights, and utility wires.

After an earthquake

  • Turn off electricity, gas, and water. Do not light matches until after you have checked for gas or fuel leaks
  • Check for injuries and apply first aid. Do not move seriously injured people unless they are in immediate danger
  • Check for broken water, sewerage or electrical mains
  • Do not use the telephone immediately (to avoid congestion) unless there is a life-threatening situation
  • Check for cracks and damage to your building
  • Evacuate the building if it is badly damaged, and be prepared for aftershocks
  • Do not waste food and water as supplies may be interrupted. Collect emergency water from heaters, ice cubes, toilet tanks and canned foods
  • Listen to your local radio station and heed warnings and advice on damage and service disruptions
  • Try to avoid driving unless in an emergency (to keep the streets free for emergency services)
  • Do not go sightseeing or enter damaged buildings
  • Try to stay calm and help others if possible.

Contact your Insurer

When responding to emergencies, such as an earthquake, be sure to act quickly and be in contact with your insurer and subsequent building and repairs partners.

If the property has suffered damage, document the details and retain evidence in the form of photos, videos, emails and other conversations records for referencing during claims before you begin cleaning up.

Most policies for Commercial, Residential, and Strata buildings will specify that Damage must occur within 72 hours of the earthquake.

Don’t forget in an emergency situation call:

  • Earthquake/Flood/Storm Emergency – call the State Emergency Service (SES) on 132 500
  • Life Threatening Emergency – call 000
  • Non-Emergency SES Enquiries – click here
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