The Problem: In February 2010, the sixth-largest earthquake ever recorded shook Chile, causing an estimated $15 billion to $30 billion in damage. One of the businesses affected by the quake was the records management and storage company Iron Mountain, which maintains a number of storage facilities at its Lampa campus in the Santiago metro area. The high-density multilevel racks at several of its storage facilities collapsed during the earthquake, taking part of the building structure with them. In the end, Iron Mountain had to demolish seven warehouses and their associated racking systems due to earthquake-related damage.
As it went to rebuild its facilities, Iron Mountain resolved to find a better system. In particular, it wanted racking that could withstand future earthquakes but still provide safe storage for its clients' documents and allow easy access on a daily basis.
The Solution: Iron Mountain didn't have to look far for a solution. Amidst all the destruction, there was one facility on the Lampa campus that was not irreparably damaged by the quake. Just five months earlier, Iron Mountain had contracted with storage system specialist Interlake Mecalux to construct both storage racks and the building for its new "Warehouse 11." When the earthquake struck, the rack installation was half-finished, but it was undamaged by the shock. An outside structural engineering firm later inspected the racks and determined that they would have survived the earthquake even if they had been fully built and packed to capacity with cases of documents.
Customer: Iron Mountain
Primary business: Records management and storage
Supplier: Interlake Mecalux
Solution: Customized selective pallet rack system
"At the time of the earthquake, there was only one Mecalux facility, and it stood the test of the earthquake," says Doug Berry, Iron Mountain's director of construction and facilities. Because the Interlake Mecalux racks in Warehouse 11 fared so well, Iron Mountain ended up contracting with the company to help it rebuild two warehouses that were damaged in the quake.
Why did Warehouse 11 and its racks remain standing while structures all around them collapsed? For one thing, they were seismically engineered. The layout for the building went through an extensive structural review, which not only took into account the local seismic regulations but also fire protection and electrical and security concerns. For another, the setup was also extensively vetted. Civil engineers reviewed the building's structural design, consulting engineers reviewed the storage system's structural design, and then a final group of reviewing engineers looked at both together.
Because Warehouse 11 was built on land classified as high risk for earthquake damage, the engineers determined they would need to reinforce the storage system. In this case, the reinforcing was custom-tailored to fit the Iron Mountain facility. Most warehouses and DCs expect to have a certain amount of inventory turnover and therefore, assume the rack's shelves or bays will be only 50 to 80 percent full at any given time. Iron Mountain, however, is storing boxes of paper archives, and these boxes rarely (if ever) move. For that reason, Iron Mountain designs its facilities with the expectation that they'll be at 100-percent capacity all of the time—which means it's critical that the company not waste storage space.
Ordinarily, Interlake Mecalux would seismically engineer racks by using longitudinal bracing across the back of the rack. Using this approach for Iron Mountain, however, would have reduced the amount of the storage space available and interfered with the sprinklers installed inside the rack to protect the files from fire. So instead, Interlake Mecalux created frames with connections between the beams and the reinforced columns. The connections were designed with a certain amount of elasticity to allow the frame to better absorb the seismic waves created by an earthquake. Interlake Mecalux also created thicker, more absorbent floor slabs to ensure that an earthquake would not cause the rack to topple over. The company says that this level of customization is typical for it, even if the customer's warehouse is not in an earthquake zone.
Iron Mountain's ability to continue operating after the earthquake and swiftly rebuild its damaged facilities proved to be a competitive advantage. After the earthquake, Iron Mountain picked up 100 new clients in Chile, including one of the country's largest banks, which had previously used its own storage facilities. "Our competition didn't have the robust racking or sprinkler systems that helped us survive the earthquake," Berry says.