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Sprinkler Damage from a Quake Can Prove a Costly Business: Protect Your Assets

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While you might expect cracks to the foundation of your business building during an earthquake, that is not the most common damage resulting from temblors in California.

More typically, businesses may suffer property damage after a quake shakes a building enough to activate or damage indoor sprinklers, which in turn spray water, wreaking havoc on office fixtures, machinery and inventory. The resulting damage from water sprinkler damage can often far exceed the damage to the structure itself.

 

Napa quake case study

After the Napa earthquake in 2014, the Federal Emergency Management Agency studied 32 buildings with fire sprinkler systems and found five that had sustained sprinkler system damage during the quake. The damaged systems had sprinkler breakage resulting in water damage, short hanger failures, and impact with adjacent components.

Interaction between sprinkler systems and something else was the main cause of damage.

The five systems that were damaged resulted in significant water damage because the quake happened early in the morning in a business district, meaning no employees were on site to shut off water valves.

“Pressurized piping system failures, especially fire sprinkler systems, caused significant damage even though the actual number of piping failures was comparatively small,” according to the FEMA report.

When an earthquake occurs, the majority of sprinkler system damage is from the building shaking and swaying. This movement can cause a sprinkler system that has not been properly braced to come into contact with other building systems or structural members that can damage the sprinklers and fittings. This damage can lead to leaking throughout the piping network, and can impair the system.

If you have a sprinkler system in place, it should comply with the National Fire Protection Association Standard, Section 9.3 of which is designed to limit the impact of this differential movement so that the sprinkler system can function as intended after, and potentially during, the seismic event.

To help maintain the alignment of system components and prevent the development of damage-inducing momentum, the standard requires sway bracing and restraint for system piping.

It is critical to have fire protection systems in place after an earthquake, because it is not uncommon to see a higher volume of fires due to ignition sources that become exposed during the seismic activity.

These ignition sources include electrical hazards such as disconnected or exposed wires and panels, along with fuel sources that may have spilled due to ruptured tanks or broken piping connections. Leaks involving natural gas and propane are also a source of fire once the gas is ignited.

 

Have the right insurance

If you own a commercial building or are a tenant in a commercial building that is equipped with a sprinkler system for fire suppression, you may not have coverage if there is damage done to your building or the contents inside the building for water damage caused by either a leak in the system or damage to a sprinkler pipe.

Standard commercial property insurance will not cover this type of damage, leaving many affected businesses out of luck should they suffer sprinkler damage after an earthquake.

Coverage for this type of loss can be added to your policy. Earthquake sprinkler leakage (EQSL) or sprinkler leakage coverage can be added to your existing policy by endorsement, usually for an additional premium depending on the insurance company.

An EQSL or sprinkler leakage endorsement would provide coverage for the building and/or contents inside the building should the sprinkler system leak due to an earthquake or accident. It would also provide coverage should the sprinklers become damaged.