Earthquake Preparedness: It Is Never Too Late To Start

Earthquake Preparedness

According to the United States Geological Society (USGS), close to 2 million earthquakes occur every year in the world. However, some of the quakes are so slight that they are not detectable without sophisticated equipment.

It may seem like earthquakes are occurring more often, but better detection equipment and the fact people are living in more remote areas may create this belief. Earthquakes of course occur in regions that are not populated and so they do go undetected, unless there is seismic detection equipment located in the area (USGS, 2014).

Typically, earthquakes will occur along the edge of the oceanic and continental plates but of course, they can essentially occur anywhere. They strike without notice, and depending on the magnitude, the destruction can be devastating resulting in loss of life and extensive property damage.

Those living near a coastal region can also experience a tsunami because of an earthquake. Large tidal waves caused by earthquakes can destroy entire towns and cities creating untold damage to the coastal regions. Normally there is some notice of a pending tsunami but you cannot rely on being notified.

  • Stay inside the home or building when an earthquake occurs. People are killed and injured by falling debris from buildings, from downed live power lines and from sinkholes in the streets. People also become injured from trying to evacuate buildings during an earthquake.
  • Never enter any damaged building with a lit candle because of possible gas leaks.
  • Monitor for tsunami warnings and evacuate as soon as the possibility of one becomes clear

To determine your risk for an earthquake visit the following: https://www.fema.gov/earthquake/earthquake-hazard-maps

Prepping Your Home for an Earthquake

Hazards from an earthquake can include mud/landslides, tsunamis, collapsing structures, falling trees and light poles/street signs, collapsing tunnels and overpasses, sinkholes in streets and from fires and explosions because of ruptured gas lines and from damage to electrical wiring. These mentioned of course are not the only hazards but they are the typical ones.

Inside your home, you can be hurt from the structure collapsing, from falling dressers, mirrors wall mounted televisions, brick or stone fireplaces, appliances that tip over, falling dishes/pots and pans out of cupboards and from falling canned goods, and from fires occurring because of gas leaks or from damaged wiring.

In areas where earthquakes occur in this country, commercial and private structures must meet certain standards so the structure can withstand a certain magnitude earthquake. This does not mean however that your home or commercial structure will not receive damage but the likelihood of the entire structure collapsing down upon you is dramatically lessened.

In countries where the infrastructure is poor or non-existent and there are no building codes the death toll from earthquakes is considerably higher.

Check with the local code enforcement and/or city-building inspectors to determine if your home is up to code. Even though it may not seem like it, inside of your home during and immediately after an earthquake is the safest place.

Getting Started

First, you need a safe room that everyone gathers in when an earthquake occurs. The room should have a load-bearing wall (s). What is a load-bearing wall? A load-bearing wall (or bearing wall) is a wall that bears a load resting upon it by conducting its weight to a foundation structure.

You will need a stout table to get under for protection from falling debris, and the table can be pushed up against the load-bearing wall. The room should be big enough so if there is a fireplace you can be far enough away from it so any falling brick or stone would not pose a threat.

Televisions should be anchored to the wall if they are on a stand and in many cases, they will come with a strap so you can anchor them to a stud. Wall mounted televisions are not recommended nor are hanging chandeliers. Emergency supplies should be kept in the room for immediate use. You can also store football or bicycle helmets for children and adults for head protection.

1.) It is important that you know how to shut off the main supply of gas to the home. If an earthquake occurs, you want to stop the gas from flowing into the home and leaking through ruptured gas lines running to the appliances.

You can also have special gas valves installed on your meter that will automatically shut off if there is a tremor. The shut off valves are sometimes called “earthquake actuated gas shutoff valves” and in some counties or cities, the valves may be required.

If you do not have an automatic shutoff valve, you can use a pipe wrench or adjustable Crescent Wrench.

2.) Shut off the main breaker that supplies electricity to the entire home.

3.) Use metal or suitable nylon straps to anchor your hot water tank to wall studs to prevent tip over which can cause injury and water damage. Additionally the hot water tank could be a source of emergency water so protect the source.

4.) Upright refrigerator/freezers must be strapped to the wall studs to prevent tip over. Washers, dryers, and dishwashers typically would not pose a threat. However, stackable washers and dryers would pose a threat so make sure they are anchored properly. Microwaves mounted over the stove as well as wall-mounted ovens could pose a threat, so make sure they are anchored to the studs as well.

5.) Dish cupboards should have solid doors with latches that would prevent the dishes from spilling out. Pot and pan racks must be anchored properly as well.

6.) Pay particular attention to bedrooms. You do not want any object falling on a sleeping person. Bureaus/dressers and armoires must be far enough away from the bed or anchored properly. Televisions must be anchored and any wall-mounted televisions must be far enough way so if they do fall they do not strike the bed. The same applies to any brick or stone fireplaces.

7.) Sideboards or curio cabinets must be anchored to wall studs, and the cabinets should have latches that prevent the doors from falling open.

9.) Surprising enough even builders will at times only anchor overhead lights to the sheetrock if it is ½ sheetrock. You need to make sure any overhead lighting is anchored to the ceiling joists and this means you will have to get into the attic to check. You can nail a 2×4 between the joists to anchor any ceiling lights to or use metal banding designed specifically for this purpose.

10.) Keep all hazardous/toxic chemical on the lowest shelf in the home.  In the garage at floor, level inside a metal cabinet with a latch on the door is the recommended storage method. Spilled chemicals can cause death or injury to those inside the home.

Emergency Supplies

As with any crisis there are certain items you will need regardless of the calamity so your home preparedness kit will have what you need, with possibly a few exceptions.

  • You may need crowbars, firefighter axes, handsaws and sledgehammers for extraction from damaged building or for rescue operations
  • Head mounted battery operated lights and remember any flame can cause an explosion from leaking gas
  • Heavy rope such as climbing rope for extraction and rescue
  • Heavy brooms and shovels for cleanup as well as large rubbish barrels
  • Quality respirators because there will be airborne contaminates in the air from insulation, plaster, sheetrock and so on, as well as, contaminates from spilled chemicals

Sources:

USGS. (2014). Retrieved 2014, from http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/eqarchives/year/eqstats.php