Earthquakes are one of the most potentially damaging events in nature’s arsenal.
The Good Friday Earthquake, occurring in 1964 in Alaska, literally shook the entire world with effects felt as far away as South Africa. Earthquakes occur daily, but many are too small to even notice. Many events are difficult, if not outright impossible, to predict. That makes proofing your home prior to a seismic event critically important even if you do not live in a location traditionally prone to earthquakes.
Earthquakes can create other catastrophic events like subsidence, tsunamis, power outages and fires, which means your plan should include ways to protect your loved ones for more than the minutes after an earthquake.
Begin by assessing your house. Look for weak points in the structure like chimneys or unsupported additions to the house. These points should be bolted to the structure because they can collapse during an event, turning an otherwise safe location into a place that will need to be evacuated. If you aren’t certain, have an inspector assess the property. Ask about shear walls, particularly if your house is not on a level foundation.
Check anything that uses gas including the water heater. You can purchase a tool that will allow you to shut off the gas in the event of a leak, but once the gas is shut off your utility company will need to come out to turn it back on. This should only be done as a last resort and in emergencies. Bolting down any gas appliances will help prevent damage. Use flexible pipefittings instead of solid metal so that there is less of a chance the pipe will tear out of the wall.
Know your exits, and make sure your family knows those exits. Establish a plan in any emergency event that details multiple escape routes and where to meet afterwards. Once a structure has been compromised, re-entering the structure is extremely dangerous. Make sure no one is left unaccounted for simply because of a lack of information. Keep safety implements in easily accessible areas throughout the house. Flashlights and fire extinguishers may both be necessary after an earthquake. Key areas include the kitchen and utility room.
Keep heavy objects low to the ground, and anchor all artwork securely to the wall. Secure all cabinets. Indoor furniture should be placed away from weak structural points like windows and away from overhead fixtures or heavy artwork. The inside walls are always the safest, so keep important furniture like beds against them.
Finally, always have enough food and water on-hand for your family, including your pets. During a catastrophic event, you may need to take shelter for a few days and may not have access to utilities.