Earthquakes happen unexpectedly and can occur in any part of the US. These natural hazard events create ground shaking and can cause objects to fall and break, damaging your home and injuring the people inside.
States in the western part of the US, near the divide of the North American and Pacific plates, typically experience more seismic activity. These areas include California, Alaska, Nevada, Hawaii, Washington State, Utah, and others.
If you are in a location prone to earthquakes, you should consider earthquake-proofing your house. While no home is completely protected, there are certain things you can do to help prevent significant structural damage and injuries.
Earthquake “Proofing” Your House
Protect yourself, others, and the interior of your home by implementing these earthquake-proof practices. Many of these precautions require little to no cost and can play a huge role in the outcome of your home.
Furniture and Home Objects
- Avoid hanging or putting heavy items on shelves, especially where people usually sit, like a bed or couch. Instead, place heavy objects on lower tables or shelves.
- For lighter items on shelves, use museum putty or velcro to fix them to the surface or place them on a shelf with a lip.
- Secure mirrors and pictures to the wall using wire and eye screws into studs.
- Place tall and heavy pieces of furniture away from places where people sit, sleep, or hang out.
- Anchor tall and heavy furniture, such as bookcases, into the wall using at least two studs and flexible earthquake straps.
- Store glassware in cabinets.
- Use latches to prevent cabinet doors from flying open.
- Locate beds and tables with chairs away from the window to prevent the glass from shattering onto them and the people using them.
Appliances and Electrical Items
- Secure water heaters according to your state’s laws. Some states may require you to purchase an authorized strap to fasten the tank to the wall.
- Ensure gas kitchen appliances have flexible connections.
- Strap refrigerators, ovens, washing machines, and dryers to the walls.
- Strap or anchor computers, televisions, and other electronic devices to the wall or table.
- Know where to find your home’s electrical circuit breaker box, gas shut-off valve, and water shut-off in case you need to turn them off after an earthquake.
- Secure overhead light fixtures to the ceiling.
In addition to preparing your home for an earthquake, you should consider purchasing an insurance policy that covers earthquake damage.
Evaluate Your Home’s Structure
When determining if your home’s structure is earthquake-ready, you need to evaluate three main areas. Consider hiring a professional to help you assess the security of your home’s structure and identify any weak points. Your home may require a seismic retrofit to make it more resistant to seismic activity.
Homes with crawl spaces should evaluate the need for cripple wall bracing. A cripple wall is a small raised foundation with wood-framed walls between the bottom floor and the first story of a home, creating a crawl space.
Cripple walls help to fasten a home during an earthquake, absorb shock, and avoid displacement. However, they can significantly contribute to structural damage during earthquakes if they are not reinforced.
Homeowners can brace a cripple wall using anchor bolts. For some homes, it may be necessary to nail plywood sheathing or diagonal sheathing to protect the space further.
Depending on the home type and when it was built, it may or may not be anchored into its foundation. Foundation bolting prevents your house from sliding off its foundation in the event of severe shaking. Bolting your home to its foundation will help to avoid significant structural damage.
What do I do during an earthquake?
Whether your area typically has high seismic activity or not, everyone should have an Earthquake Preparedness Plan. In more at-risk zones, you should also consider building an earthquake-safe room.
If you are at home and you feel shaking, stay inside. First, find a covered place like a sturdy table and duck under it. Then, get into a ball position, cover your head, and wait until the shaking stops to check if others are okay.
Staying inside during an earthquake is safer than going outdoors. However, if you are outdoors, stay away from trees, power lines, or other objects that may fall. You should immediately drop and cover your head.For more information and tips on what to do during an earthquake, order our Grab + Go Box. It has action plans, instructions on what to do before, during, and after an earthquake, checklists for emergency bags, and more!