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How FedEx Air Operations Prepares for Earthquakes

May 16, 2018

Air Operations diaster drillMemphis, Tennessee – home of FedEx World Headquarters – is located in the New Madrid Seismic Zone, an earthquake zone. While even the smallest earthquake is not common in this area today, a look farther back in time reveals a history of rare, but strong quakes. In 1811 a massive earthquake of at least 7.5 magnitude hit nearby New Madrid, Missouri.

It seems unbelievable, but that 1811 quake made the Mississippi River run backwards for several hours.

It made church bells ring up to 1,000 miles away in places like Boston and Charleston. President James Madison felt the tremors in Washington, DC.

A large earthquake can destroy an entire region in an instant. The human toll can be devastating, and a damaged infrastructure can have a multiplier effect on an area’s suffering.

A good plan can make an incredible difference if, and when, “The Big One” ever hits. That’s why the FedEx Express Air Operations team gathers their top minds to regularly go through a large- scale disaster drill. We caught up with two of their experts, John Kinch and Dave Lusk.

John Kinch, Air Operations Business Planning Advisor, FedEx Express

Q: Can you describe the drill?

A: A typical scenario is that the Memphis area has just been hit with a 7.2 earthquake. All Disaster Team members, those who can, know their responsibilities and move into action.

The Division Supervisors search every room in their areas for people who need to evacuate, those who are injured, and any potential fatalities. They also assess the facility for damage. They then call this information to the Control Room. Everyone has an assigned place to evacuate and be accounted for. If someone is missing, it means they might still be trapped within the buildings.

The four main teams (Medical, Logistics, Control and Communications) also move to action.

Air Operations diaster drillQ: How realistic is it?

A: We have professional makeup artists who donate their time and skills to “decorate” our injured volunteers. The work that they do, including an amputee, is very realistic. When our team members find and work on the injured, often they forget that it is not real and react as it is real and life-saving. You can see the change in the first responders as they bandage and transport, showing compassion and concern.

That is why we train and hold drills. It is a known issue, that when a severe event happens, many people are shocked and stunned, and become useless in helping themselves and others. We train to have people who initially are shocked, to immediately react, and to get on with helping those in need.

Q: Who is involved in this drill?

A: About 175 to 190 people: Disaster Recovery team volunteers (if work allows), Facilities, Observers, volunteer injured people, make-up artists, Security, Safety, BBQ Relief Organization, and the FedEx Fire Department.

Q: Is the FedEx drill based on other drills, or is it unique to FedEx?

A: I am sure that other companies around the country hold drills. Our drill is planned by our team. We did this on our own, not based on some other drill.

Q: What have you learned from these drills in the past? What can other large organizations learn?

A: At the end of every drill we hold what is called a “Hot Wash”. We pass survey forms out to all

participants and ask that they judge the drill-both good and bad. At every drill we bring in professional observers to analyze the drill and share their suggestions. Everyone gathers in an auditorium at the end to discuss and listen for suggestions. Each time we drill, we see improvement.

Dave Lusk, Senior Manager, Global Operations Control, FedEx Express

Q: What is the earthquake threat in the Memphis area?

Air Operations diaster drillA: Memphis is located in the New Madrid Seismic Zone. The 150-mile-long zone extends into five states, stretching from Cairo, Illinois south westward to Marked Tree, Arkansas and has a history of generating moderate to large earthquakes since 1699. The largest earthquakes ever to occur in the New Madrid zone were magnitude 7 – 7.5 in 1811 and 1812. The last earthquake in the modern era was a 5.4 magnitude quake on November 9, 1968 near Dale, Illinois. There remains a small chance of earthquakes in the New Madrid Seismic Zone.

Q: What can you share about FedEx business continuity efforts?

A: Disaster Recovery and Contingency Operations (DRACO) is a living project to continually assess and mitigate earthquake and other risk to the FedEx operational infrastructure in the mid-south area. DRACO incorporates a mix of contingency plans and processes which can be used to protect the FedEx Express infrastructure and operations after an earthquake and in other events.

Q: How can individuals prepare for natural disasters like earthquakes?

A: Take a local CERT class. CERT stands for Community Emergency Response Team. CERT programs educate volunteers about disaster preparedness for the hazards that may impact their area and trains them in basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization, and disaster medical operations.

CERT offers a consistent, nationwide approach to volunteer training and organization that professional responders can rely on during disaster situations, which allows them to focus on more complex tasks. Through CERT, the capabilities to prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters is built and enhanced. CERT training in your area may be provided by your local fire department or county Emergency Management Services. There is a community force multiplier in being trained in CERT. It teaches the necessary skill-sets to prepare your home, family and community for a disaster.

When your entire family is trained in CERT, you will have the peace of mind to know that your family will know what to do during a disaster, even if you’re not together.

Air Operations diaster drill


    malcolm swinbank says:

    Preparation is always good, but it is interesting that the New Madrid 1699 and 1811/2 earthquakes occurred during the later stages of the Maunder Solar Minimum (1640-1715 approx) and the Dalton Solar Minimum (1780-1820 approx).
    NASA reports that a new Grand Solar Minimum is beginning, in which case during the coming decades there will be challenges on the ground, but also in the air, due to the erratic and severe weather events which history records as accompanying GSMs.

    Pam Rumble says:

    This is a very interesting article. Thank you for writing it. Thank you to Malcolm Swinbank for the very interesting information on the Maunder Solar Minimum and the Dalton Solar Minimum. I did not know those existed. I am going to look them up!

    malcolm swinbank says:

    Pam, you have probably heard of 1816 being described as ‘the year without a Summer’ but if you have not then please look it up also, as it was one of the major events of the Dalton Minimum.

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