Earthquake Damage Prevention and Safety

It doesn't necessarily mean the loss of one's home when the earth quakes. There are several things a homeowner can do to prepare in advance to protect family and home from disaster. Appliances, furniture and breakables can be secured using special attachments and a hammer, nails and a screwdriver. This can be accomplished by the homeowner in most cases. However, an engineer, a licensed building contractor or an architect should be relied on when structural upgrades are necessary. Any remodel should meet or exceed current local building codes to have a better chance of surviving an earthquake.

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The homeowner can:
• Anchor filing cabinets and bookcases to the walls
• Install latches on cabinet doors and drawers to keep them closed during a quake
• Suspended ceilings, ceiling lights, chandeliers and hanging plants should all be secured to the permanent structure
• Ledge barriers on shelves will keep items from easily falling to the floor
• Heavy items should be placed on lower shelves along with items that are easily broken
• Closed screw-eyes and wire can be used to secure mirrors and pictures to the walls
• Small appliances and computers attached to desks and countertops will remain in place
• Windows and glass doors need to have safety film applied to minimize breakage
• Safety cables or straps anchor large appliances to the walls; if appliances have rollers, these should be in the locked position
• The water heater needs to be secured to the wall and/or floor
• All gas appliances should be fitted with flexible connections or a breakaway gas shut-off device. Local building codes will determine whether this must be done by a professional or if the homeowner can do it himself.

Protecting the Structure

Even relatively small earthquakes test the solidity of a home's structure. The house must be able to absorb the energy of the quake and transfer the forces back to the ground. A home that is properly tied together-the roof attached firmly to the walls and each wall fastened tightly to the other-and properly braced should then be anchored to a strong foundation. If the house wasn't constructed this way, it ought to be reinforced to make it more quake resistant.

Important Retrofits include:
• Installing steel plates and anchor bolts between the foundation and the walls
• Sheathing braces must be installed on the short wood-stud wall between the foundation's top and the first floor
• Un-reinforced chimneys, concrete and masonry walls and foundations need to be braced according to local codes.

Personal Earthquake Precautions

Nothing can completely quake-proof a home or guarantee the occupants safety. Since earthquakes strike without warning, additional precautions taken before an earthquake happens can help protect family members as much as possible:
• Teach family members to duck under a desk or table and hold on to it during a quake
• Know the community's disaster preparedness plans and create a personal family plan: noting escape routes from the house and from the neighborhood. Choose a meeting place where family members who have become separated can reunite
• Make plans regarding communication with relatives
• Adult and teenage family members should know where gas, electric and water shutoff controls are located and how to turn them off. These should not be shut off unless there is a gas leak, electrical short or water leaking. Wrenches can be stored nearby.
• Make a 72-hour kit that includes a three-day supply of non-perishable food and drinking water, first aid supplies, a battery operated NOAA weather radio, basic tools, a flashlight, emergency cooking equipment, at least one pair of work gloves, portable lanterns, a variety of fresh batteries, clothes, blankets, prescription medications, extra keys to the house and car, replacement eyeglasses, cash and credit cards, insurance policies and other important documents.

When an Earthquake Occurs:
• Anyone inside the house should stay there and "Duck, Cover and Hold" until the quake is over. If time allows and conditions permit, individuals should move away from skylights and windows.
• Those who are outdoors need to quickly move into an open area, away from buildings, trees and electrical lines. They should drop to the ground until the shaking stops.
• Family members on the roadway need to carefully and slowly stop the car on the side of the road. Don't stop under bridges, power lines or near road signs that could fall. After the shaking stops the driver can continue, but watch carefully for roadway damage.

While there are no guarantees of making it safely through an earthquake even after taking all of the above precautions, they should all help to minimize any damaging effects.

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