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Additional steps you can take to secure you home

Additional steps you can take to secure you home. 

Have you noticed a continuous stream of news about earthquakes from around the world lately?  I certainly have and it reminds me that we are overdue for one.  There are a number common sense things that don’t cost a lot of of money  that one can do to prepare for the time when we are subjected to another big tremor.  You can always start with evaluating the building or the house that you live in. But if this out of your budget or if your house is already retrofitted, see below.

These steps are paraphrasing and adding to another New Yorker’s article by Kathryn Shultz “How to Stay Safe When the Big One Comes” as it relates to SF Bay Area.  See the previous post that talks about bolting your home to  foundations.

Strap down your water heater. A water heater is basically a bomb in your basement: big heavy object, open flame, gas line. If it topples over during an earthquake, it can break that line and start a fire. Or it can smash the water line and cause a flood. Or it can do both. You can hire a contractor to secure your heater, or do so yourself with a water-heater-strap kit, available at any home-improvement store for around twenty dollars. (And while you’re down in your basement, make sure you know how to turn off your gas and water main. You’ll want to shut off both after the quake—not a good moment to be figuring out how to do so for the first time.).  You can also install an EQ gas line shut off valve that will off your gas line automatically in the event of a moderate or large earthquake. The cost of this valve is on the order of $250 and should be installed by a licensed plumber.

Hold your stuff down. Computers, , vases, houseplants, your TV and all your family’s chachkaswill become projectiles during the earthquake. Your job is to prevent that, and you can do so in a couple of hours and at essentially no cost. Attach bookshelves and tall furniture to the wall. Use metal brackets with wood screws and  wing nuts to attach it to the wall finish or studs.  Move heavy objects from higher shelves to lower ones. Don’t hang pictures, mirrors, shelves, or anything else sharp-edged or heavy above a bed. Install latches on your cabinets. Don’t store heavy bottles above waist level.  Attach you favorite vases and other knickknacks to the shelves with museum putty.

Make a plan with your family. No matter when it strikes—though especially if it does so during school and business hours—the earthquake will leave countless people separated from their loved ones. At the same time, it will cut or severely compromise telecommunications systems, making it difficult or impossible to track one another down via phone calls, e-mails, or texts. Ask a friend or relative outside the region to agree to serve as a contact person for your family; if it does become possible to send messages in some form, you’re more likely to get through to someone when their end of the communications systems is functional and the lines aren’t overloaded. Choose a meeting place for your family, remembering that many bridges will be down and many roads impassable. Find out if your city has designated earthquake-gathering areas, where food, water, and first aid will be available. If you have children, learn the earthquake plan at their schools, day-care centers, camps, and after-school activities. If you live across a bridge from where you work or where your children attend school, arrange in advance for a friend to pick them up or meet them at home if the earthquake occurs during school hours and you cannot get there yourself.  Part of the problem is obliviousness, or disbelief. “Most people think someone is handling this,” Chris Goldfinger, the seismologist featured in the original New Yorker article, said. “And that’s not true. No one is handling it.”

Get to know your neighbors. In most disasters, neighbors become the de-facto first responders, since they are already on the scene when calamity strikes. That will be especially true in the large earthquake, where widespread damage to the infrastructure will make travel difficult for heavy vehicles like fire trucks and ambulances.  Find out which of your neighbors has an elderly relative on a ventilator, which one has a generator, which one has a past as a paramedic. Knowing facts like these about each other can save lives: theirs, or yours. City of Oakland offers free CORE (Community of Oakland Respond to Emergencies) training. If you can gather 15-20 neighbors and volunteer your living room, they will even send somebody to train you at your home.  Many other cities in the Bay Area offer similar programs.

Keep an earthquake kit in a safe, accessible spot in your home. If you do all of the above as well as retrofit your home, you will most likely survive the earthquake. Which is exactly why you should plan for it: you’re still going to be around afterward, when life gets physically, emotionally, and logistically hairy. You can make things easier—on yourself, your family, your neighbors, and emergency responders—by assembling a decent earthquake kit and storing it in a safe, accessible place. The kit should include supplies to last you at least 3 to 7 days on your own.  Some things to include:

  • Copies of important documents (birth certificates, passports, driver’s licenses, wills)
  • Cash (A.T.M.s won’t work after the quake)
  • Prescription drugs (these expire, so, as with food, you’ll have to periodically replace them)
  • Flashlights
  • Extra batteries
  • Spare eyeglasses
  • A whistle (attach one to your key chain, too, in case you wind up trapped somewhere)
  • Basic first-aid supplies
  • Warm clothing
  • Sturdy shoes
  • Rain gear
  • Sleeping bags
  • A tent
  • If you have a gas BBQ, get a spare gas tank and keep it filled.
  • Never leave your car below half a tank empty.
  • Food and water. Three-day supply of each on hand (figure a gallon of water per person per day, for drinking as well as washing) is a must, but in the large earthquake event that won’t be nearly enough. The more realistic target is a week supply, but that’s a daunting amount for those with limited means or limited storage space. My own theory about earthquake preparedness is that the perfect is the enemy of the good: don’t choose to stock nothing because you can’t stock everything. Got money and space to spare? Great: fill a shelf with water and nonperishable foods. Throw in duct tape and a tool kit. Throw in a hand-cranked radio, a water purifier, iodine. Don’t have much money or space? Make a small kit with whatever you can fit and afford. Everything you have, you’ll use; everything you can do for yourself frees up emergency resources for those in even greater need. The food in your fridge can last for a few days in the summer heat, but you can get some additional supplies at your local REI.  Also EQ kits are sold online.  Google it.

Demand better seismic safety.  Many of the worst problems facing the region will require major public-works projects to fix them, and others will require private companies commit to solutions, but the general public can play an important role in bringing about that kind of change. In California, most of the hospitals, public schools and junior colleges are retrofitted and are in relatively good shape. However, most of the private schools, day care centers and some universities are not.  A lot of the older office buildings where the parents of the kids who will likely survive the earthquake in schools aren’t retrofitted.  If you work in one of those buildings, ask your employer or landlord if it is retrofitted and demand action or consider looking for another place to work.  If you live in the apartment building, ask your landlord if the building is on the list of so called Soft Story buildings.  Those are the buildings that have large garage or storefront openings or tuck under parking garages that were built before 1980’s building codes and are of wood construction.  According to the studies these building are the most likely to collapse in the earthquake creating hundreds of victims and thousands of displaced citizens.  If you live in one of those buildings, find out if there is a plan to retrofit it.  San Francisco and Berkeley have mandatory ordinances to fix these building up.  There are deadlines to submit retrofit designs for permit and to complete the construction.  The city of Oakland is in the process of adopting a similar ordinance.  If you live in these cities ask you landlord if they intend to comply.  If not, consider moving.  There are tens of thousands of this type of buildings around other California communities.  Talk to your local representatives and press them to act.

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