In addition to structural damage to buildings, there is always, in a major earthquake, considerable damage related to utility lines and the contents of buildings. The most serious concern is fire. When gas lines break, fire or asphyxiation is a definite possibility. During a major disaster the fire department and utility companies will not be able to respond to most of the calls - assuming that calls can even be made. In commercial and industrial buildings, or multi-family residences there should be automatic shut-off devices. Such devices are also available to individuals, and some jurisdictions require automatic shut-off devices for new single family developments.
Commercial, industrial, and larger multi-family buildings often contain extensive support system - heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and electrical. Heavy equipment, such as transformers, need to be adequately secured. Pipes and conduit need enough flexibility to handle some movement without breaking.
Another common problem is damage to, or damage and injury from building contents. In houses, water heaters and other heavy objects should be securely fastened to the walls, and heavy objects should not be located over beds or other places where they could injure someone.
In the higher floors of office buildings, heavy furniture such as desks and filing cabinets should be bolted to the walls or floors so that they do not careen across the rooms. Loose items such as groceries, liquor, books, and medicine may be thrown to the floor. Relatively simple restraining devices can prevent the considerable economic loss from damaged goods. Precautions are even more important where loss or mixing of essential inventory as in a pharmacy, would prevent a critical business from functioning effectively.
Damage to contents is even more serious in any establishment that handles hazardous chemicals, including fuels. Every business that deals with hazardous and toxic materials must have a fail safe plan for preventing spills and containing and/or neutralizing released material. Additionally,there should be an operation plan for dealing with earthquakes, and regular earthquake drills.