How to Prepare Your Home for Earthquakes
Here in Southern California, earthquakes are usually top of mind. And with the recent 6.0 magnitude Napa quake, we’re even more reminded that quakes can happen anywhere, anytime. When an earthquake hits, we might be used to the rattling and rolling, but are our homes up to the shaking? Below are some ways we can protect our homes against earthquake damage.
- Support ceiling fans with bracing wire secured to a screw eye embedded at least an inch into the ceiling joist.
- Reinforce roof sheathing to protect against falling masonry.
- Nail plywood to the ceiling joists around the chimney to protect against damage from falling bricks.
- Anchor heavy mirrors, pictures and decorative wall art in studs.
- Also anchor appliances like the fridge, washer/dryer and oven with anchor kits (available at any hardware store).
- Protect against falling bookcases or entertainment centers by anchoring these items to one of more studs using flexible fasteners.
- Nail L-shaped braces screwed into studs to attach shelving and tall dressers to walls.
- Use museum putty or industrial-grade earthquake gel to firmly hold china, trophies, glass collectibles and other shelf items.
- Use the putty to also secure any loose shelves. Place putty in each corner bracket, or screw the shelves into cabinets.
- Use nylon safety straps with buckles to secure TVs, computers, and stereo equipment.
- Hang mirrors and art with closed hooks to prevent them from falling off the wall. Close hooks by bending them shut with pliers.
- Strap the top and bottom of your water heater with heavy-gauge metal straps secured to wall studs.
- Use putty or earthquake gel to secure planters to windows boxes and outdoor ledges.
- If heavy items like mirrors or art are above the bed, remove them and replace with something lighter.
- Move flammable liquids and chemical solutions like weed killers and pesticides to a garage, outdoor shed or other outside location.
- Remove heavy objects from the top of cabinets, hutches, and high shelving. Store breakables in low, heavy cabinets.
- Store valuable documents in a fire-resistant spot.
- Install latches on cabinet doors so they don’t open during an earthquake. Latches used for child-proofing are an excellent option.
- Install a lip or guardrail on shelves to prevent books and other shelf items from tipping.
- Consider covering windows with approved shatter-resistant safety film to protect against shattered and falling glass. The protective film should be at least 4 mils thick to avoid the glass shattering.
- Check with your gas company about installing an automatic gas shut-off valve.
- Install plastic sleeving over fluorescent lighting to stop the glass from shattering.
- Put anti-skid padding such as velcro under TVs, computers, and small appliances to prevent toppling.
- Make sure your appliances have flexible gas or electrical connections. If you have rigid connections, replace them with corrugated metal connectors, which can better withstand shaking.
- Know where your gas meter is located. Find the shut-off valve and be sure to have an adjustable wrench nearby in case you need to turn off the gas.
- Inspect electrical wiring for any defects or breakage and also check for leaky gas connections. Hire a pro to fix any electrical or gas lines.
- Check your foundation and ceiling for cracks. If you note structural damage, call an expert for repair.
- Identify fragile areas in your roof’s sheathing, and frame and have these areas repaired.
Put together an earthquake kit in a large trash can with a lid.
Your earthquake kit should include:
- A tarp
- Toilet tissue
- Heavy-duty plastic bags
- Canned, dry, and instant food (label each food item with the last date it should be used and store enough to last per person for one week)
- Pet food
- Can opener
- Water (store one gallon of water per person per day for one week’s time)
- Purification tablets
- Portable radio
- First aid kit
Be sure to also have in an easy-to-remember place that isn’t your earthquake kit:
- Extra batteries
- An extra pair of glasses/contact lenses if you need them
- A fire extinguisher
- Adjustable wrenches to shut off gas and water
Other good-to-have items include:
- an axe
- work gloves
- hard hats
- a hammer
- a tent and sleeping bags
What to Do In the Event of an Earthquake
You’ve ideally decided what you are going to do if there’s an earthquake in the daytime, when you are at work or school, when you are home at night, and when everyone is in various locations. The evacuation plan for each scenario with family meet-up points should be communicated to your family. Meanwhile, during the earthquake:
If you are indoors
- Drop to your hands and knees and cover your head and neck with your arms to protect your vital organs and you from falling. Only move if you need to get away from the threat of falling objects. If you can move safely, crawl under a sturdy desk or table for additional cover. Low furniture, or an interior wall may also provide some cover. Stay away from glass, outside doors and walls, and anything that could fall, such as lighting fixtures or furniture. Hold onto any sturdy structure until the shaking stops. It’s no longer recommended to stand in a doorway as this does not provide protection from falling.
- Stay away from glass, windows, outside doors and walls, and anything that could fall, such as lighting fixtures or furniture.
- If you are in bed, stay there and cover your head and neck with a pillow.
- Stay inside until the shaking stops and it is safe to go outside. Most injuries occur when people inside buildings attempt to move to a different location.
- Don’t use the elevators.
If you are outdoors
- Move away from buildings, streetlights, and utility wires if possible.
- Drop, cover your head and neck with your arms, hold on to something sturdy if you can, and stay until the shaking stops. If you are in a city, you may need to duck inside a building to avoid falling debris.
If you are in a car or other moving vehicle
- Stop as quickly as you can, safety permitting, and stay in the vehicle. Don’t stop near or under buildings, trees, overpasses, and utility wires.
- Once the shaking has ceased, do your best to avoid roads, bridges, or ramps that might have been damaged by the earthquake.
Most U.S. states are at some risk for earthquakes, but we’ve certainly had our share in California. Because an earthquake is not a matter of if, but when, minimize the damage to your home (and to yourself) now by taking action know to secure any weak areas in your house. How have you prepared your home to better withstand an earthquake?