Aftershocks: The University of Alaska’s response after a 7.0 earthquake damages 70 buildings and displaces students

Tim EdwardsKim Mahoneyryan-buchholdtRon Swartz


Timothy M. Edwards (left to right)
University of Alaska
Chief Risk Officer

Kim Mahoney
University of Alaska
Interim Associate Vice Chancellor Facilities and Campus Services

Ryan Buchholdt
University of Alaska
Interim Director, EHSRMS and Director of Sustainability

Ron Swartz
University of Alaska
Emergency Manager


On Nov. 30, 2018 at 8:29 a.m., a 7.0 earthquake rocked Anchorage, Alaska.  The University of Alaska, Anchorage maintains over 70 Bldgs. consisting of 3.2 Million sq feet of space.  All of our buildings sustained some level of damage.  An immediate response was initiated.  Roughly 900 students and associated faculty, support, and visitors were on campus at the time of the quake.

This was a challenge as several of the leaders are new to their positions and many had little or no Incident Command Training and since Earthquakes are a natural disaster with no warnings the entire system was hit with an immediate emergency situation.

This disaster hit the entire community of Anchorage and the Matanuska Valley at the same time therefore potentially limiting resources including contractors, equipment, and materials.    Disaster responders were potentially limited with personal obstacles including failures in their homes.

Constrained by a small facilities department and challenged by aging systems, infrastructure past its useful life, and limited trained in-house workforce, UAA manages to open all buildings within 5 days post earthquake.   The journey includes using all resources available and finding jobs that could be suitable for wide variance of skill level.  Filling in gaps with local contractors. Tools used were ICS structure for all responders including contractors, lean techniques, and team building focused on safety, character and excellence.  Structure included rapid assessments and keeping ahead of the skilled workforce and organizing the structure to keep the resource – tradesmen working.

Several buildings were damaged and people were displaced, but this is an incredible story in the sense we were able to get our campus back up and running in four days, through rapid assessments, rescheduling of classes, and tremendous teamwork.  Also important there were no injuries or fatalities.


  • Taking care of people was number one priority – meeting them where they are and giving them support – being human at every step helps.
  • During an emergency, the ICS structure with focus on mission and support of attaining those mission goals – helped us all stay focused, engaged and committed.
  • Planning, Training and Exercise