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Earthquake Safety and Preparation

Be prepared: read the Disaster Preparation Handbook published by the Washington State Emergency Management Division and the Department of Health.

The 6.8 magnitude earthquake that rattled the Puget Sound region in 2001 has prompted many residents to consider what to do to prepare for future, and perhaps even more dramatic, events.

Earthquake deaths and injuries are seldom caused by the actual movement of the ground, but rather from falling objects and debris. Injuries at home are caused by partial building collapse, flying glass, overturned bookcases, furniture, appliances, and fires from broken chimneys, broken gas lines, and downed electrical lines.

An important step to earthquake preparedness is to survey your home for possible hazards and then take steps to lessen the degree of the hazards. Once you identify what needs to be corrected, it does not take much time or money to make your home a safer place to live every day.

Include all members of your household when conducting a home safety hazard hunt. It can be fun and educational for the children as they imagine what would happen if the house started to shake.

Areas of Concern

  • Floor-to-ceiling bookcases. How much would fall off the shelves? Will the whole bookcase topple, or is it anchored to the wall? Anchor bookcases and other top-heavy furniture to wall studs using metal angle braces, ("L" brackets) and lag screws. Be sure shelves are fastened.
  • Prevent refrigerators, washers and other heavy appliances from moving by blocking the rollers.
  • Add bracing to support air conditioners, particularly on rooftops.
  • If you have hanging houseplants or light fixtures that could swing and hit a window or swing off their hooks, a minimum precaution is to transfer hanging plants from heavy clay pots to lighter ones and use closed hooks on all hanging items.
  • Replace glass bottles from the medicine cabinet and from above or around the bathtub with plastic containers.
  • Consider replacing the latches on your kitchen and bathroom cabinets with ones that will hold the cabinet door shut during an earthquake. In some cases, a lip or low barrier across shelves may prevent breakables from sliding out.
  • Anchor heavy mirrors and pictures over beds, chairs, and couches with wire through eye screws into studs. Locate beds away from windows.

Think about fire safety

  • Move all flammable liquids, such as painting and cleaning products, to the garage or an outside storage area. Be sure these items are stored away from heat sources and appliances, particularly hot water heaters and furnaces.
  • Secure gas lines by installing flexible connectors to appliances.
  • Secure hot water heaters. Thin metal straps, known as plumber's tape can be used to fasten hot water heaters to the wood studs of the nearest wall.

The structure itself

  • Survey the outside of your house. If there is a chimney, where are bricks likely to fall? If the roof does not have solid sheathing, consider adding a plywood shield to ceiling joists.
  • Check the roof and make sure all tiles are secured - loose ones could fall.
  • Check the foundation for loose or cracked plaster.
  • Bolt the wood sill to the concrete foundation.
  • Sheath foundation cripple walls with plywood to prevent collapse.
  • Strengthen connections between posts and beams with metal T-straps.

Extend these suggestions to your workplace. If you have little or no control over your work environment, at least check to see if your company has an earthquake safety plan.

Children can share their new awareness in the classroom. Determine if their school has a practical earthquake plan, if earthquake drills are held, and what the policy is if an earthquake occurs while school is in session.

Earthquake Drills

By planning and practicing what to do before an earthquake occurs, you and your family can learn to react correctly and automatically when the first jolt or shaking begins.

Have each family member learn the safe spots in each room. Reinforce this knowledge by physically placing yourselves in these locations. This is a very important step for children. Acting out what they are taught will help them remember what to do in case you are not beside them at the critical time.

What To Do - Safe Places while an earthquake is occurring

  • Stand or crouch in a strong supported doorway
  • Get under a sturdy table or desk
  • Brace yourself in an inside corner of the house

In the days that follow your first drill, hold surprise drills. Call out EARTHQUAKE from wherever you are and have each family member respond by moving to the safest place. Once a month, let a child call the surprise earthquake drill. Test each other. Was there one choice that was safest? Did anyone pick a place that could be sealed shut or blocked off by falling objects?

Finally, imagine what you may experience after a major earthquake and what your first actions should be. You may be on your own for several days after a major earthquake because emergency personnel cannot get to you.

Be prepared for aftershocks. These may be nearly as strong as the initial earthquake. Take cover quickly if shaking begins again.

If you smell gas, get to the gas and water mains and turn them off. Do not light matches or candles to look for damage.

Be prepared to deal with the emotional needs of family members. Stay close enough to touch and comfort each other. Talk about what happened and be sure to encourage your children to talk about their feelings.

For more information and safety tips, please contact the Renton Fire Department of Emergency Management at 425.430.7027 or email us!