As we all know, we can’t prevent earthquakes and other natural disasters but we can prepare for them. In light of the earthquake in Haiti that flattened the capital of Port-au-Prince, claimed the lives of thousands, and left thousands more injured and displaced, I thought it would be appropriate to remind those dealing with temperamental plate tectonics on a regular basis — and those who aren’t but are affected by other natural disasters — on how they can prepare for the “big one” or not-so-big-one at home.
Many of you — particularly residents of California, Alaska and the Pacific Northwest — probably know the drill but here’s a refresher course just in case:
Batten down the hatches
- Earthquakes rattle both nerves and the contents of your home. Make sure that overhead light fixtures are anchored securely and that breakable and heavy objects are placed on lower shelves and cabinets, not up high. It also helps to keep heavy, wall-mounted objects like mirrors and frames away from seating areas. If needed, install bolts and latches on cabinets.
- Ensure that there is no faulty electrical wiring or leaky gas connections anywhere around the home. These are both potential fire sources. Bolt and brace water heaters and gas appliances to wall studs. And most importantly, know how to turn your utilities off.
If you notice significant cracks in the ceilings or foundation of your home, don’t ignore them. Consult a general contractor or seismic retrofit specialist to take a look around and assess if work should be done. You never know, some earthquake touch-ups might result in greater energy-efficiency.
- In the garage, make sure that anything flammable, pesticides, and any chemical products are kept in secure places where they cannot spill.
- Pick out a “safe place” to take cover if an earthquake hits. Indoors, this would be under a desk or any sturdy, large piece of furniture that's away from windows, mirrors, and pieces of furniture that could potentially topple over. Once you've found something to hide under, remember to duck, cover, and hold on. If hiding under something is not a quick option, secure yourself against an inside wall.
- Stash an earthquake kit or two in easily accessible areas of the home. The San Francisco Chronicle has detailed instructions on how to assemble a DIY earthquake kit or you can look into preassembled earthquake kits from companies like Quake Kare, Nitro-Pak, American Family Safety, Earthquake Store and Earth Shakes.
General 72-hour survival kits are also an option since most contain the same supplies as earthquake-specific kits. StanSport makes a comprehensive disaster kit available at retailers like Walmart and Amazon.com. Whatever kit you choose, make certain that the basics — first-aid supplies, non-perishable food, water (at least one gallon per person, per day), flashlights with extra batteries, cash, sturdy shoes, a can opener, a battery-powered or hand-crank radio, and a wrench or pillars to turn off utilities — are included. Also ensure that the kit can accommodate the size of your family and special needs like medical conditions that anyone might have.
- Epicureans experience earthquakes, too … SF Weekly has recommendations on how to prepare “The Ultimate Foodie Earthquake Kit.”
- It’s not entirely pleasant to think about, but the Red Cross offers a wealth of information on what to do before, during, and after an earthquake. It’s certainly worth reviewing yourself or with your family especially if there are kids in the house. And if you don’t live in an earthquake-prone area, the Red Cross also provides info on other events ranging from wildfires to tsunamis.
- Quake vets, have any insights you'd like to share on how to prepare yourself at home?
• Understanding earthquakes: Why such tremors happen and where the next one might strike.