This morning I read a story in the current edition of the Puget Sound Business Journal on all the businesses that are moving to the Pioneer Square District of Seattle. It is becoming a hot site to locate high tech companies with younger, hip and tech savvy employees.
The amenities that people are looking for in this area includes being close to mass transit. This means bus routes, heavy rail and light rail. There are lots of restaurants and coffee shops for lunches and those coffee breaks with your teammates. One business owner stated that he wanted to have a "loft" type of office environment which he considered really cool.Some of the businesses that have moved there in recent months include Zynga Inc., Blue Nile Inc., Discovery Bay, Nuance Communications Inc and Sharebuilder Inc.
All of the above sounds "wonderful." The only trouble is that the area is the oldest in the city. Many of the buildings are un-reinforced masonry structures that are the worst type to be in during an earthquake. Not to mention that the entire area is built on what was once a lowland tide flat that is subject to liquefaction and will significantly magnify ground motion during an earthquake. For the 2001 Nisqually Earthquake, one of the most damaged areas was the Pioneer Square District, some 40 plus miles from the epicenter of this relatively mild quake.
Who is at fault for these companies moving to a "high hazard" area of a city? It is the owners and operators of the companies? Are they ignorant of the geology of the region, the risk of quakes, the types of building stock most susceptible to damage and the potential harm that they may cause their employees and their business survivability?
Or, it is our fault as emergency managers? Have we failed to capture the market share of America's mindset that doesn't dwell on hazards. I dare say that few if any of the decision makers considered the significant risks they are taking. It has probably not even crossed their minds. If we are not calling out the risks, how are they to know?
I suppose the Seattle City Fathers would not want local emergency managers running down a particular part of town that is a popular tourist attraction and in need of economic vitality. Are we selling out to the business case so that we can have a better tax base and more income? Life requires some balance--I know that.
But, I'll leave you with this last thought. When it comes time to move your business, at least consider the hazards associated with the location that you would like to move to. If you really value your employees it should be as meaningful as the proximity to mass transit and coffee.