Disaster Preparedness: Preparing Your Home For An Earthquake

Earthquake Safety at Home

First things first… your home needs to be prepared BEFORE the earthquake. Please invest your time into the safety of your family and home.

You never know when an earthquake will strike. If you live in an area at risk for earthquakes, there are you can take to minimize risk for your family and home.

Preparing for earthquakes involves:

  • How to prepare your home for an earthquake
  • How to prepare your family for an earthquake – Understanding what you should do before, during, and after earthquakes
  • Preparing now, before the next quake.

How To Prepare Your Home For An Earthquake

There are two main areas to consider when preparing your home – the physical structure and safety of your home and the contents of your home.

Physical Structure, Foundation – A rough rule of thumb is that the older the home, the more likely you are to have damage. Homes built in the last 20 years tend to have been constructed with more rigorous building codes (depending on your city and state). If you are building or buying a home, make sure that it complies with the seismic provisions of your local building code. Older homes sometimes are not anchored to their foundations or having weak crawl space walls, unbraced pier-and-post foundations, or unreinforced masonry walls or foundations. Brick buildings are exceptionally susceptible to earthquake shaking.

Interior Contents Considerations – When the ground shakes your home vigorously expect anything not anchored to the wall to potentially become dangerous. Examples are a TV that can fall off a stand, an unsecured cabinet, a bookcase or chest of drawers that can tip over. Even a frig can become lethal during the most violent earthquake. Perform an assessment of each room of your home and identify tall, heavy, or expensive objects such as bookcases, home electronics, appliances, water heater (use a hot water tank earthquake strap for about $25), and items hanging from walls or ceilings. Secure these items with flexible fasteners, such as nylon earthquake straps (about $20), earthquake putty (about $5 to hold art work) or with earthquake cables (about $5 each). At a minimum, relocate itmes that can fall away from your bed. You can also use a cabinet latch to make sure dishes and kitchenware don’t fall out. Ensure that plumbers have installed flexible connectors on all gas appliances.

Here is a FEMA guide bout strengthening new and existing homes: Homebuilders’ Guide to Earthquake Resistant Design and Construction (FEMA 232)
and an additional guide on how to secure the contents of your home: Reducing the Risks of Nonstructural Earthquake Damage—A Practical Guide, Fourth Edition (FEMA E-74)

How To Prepare Yourself and Your Family For An Earthquake

How To React Safely To An Earthquake – Learn what to do during an earthquake. Hold periodic family drills to practice what you have learned. Through practice, you can condition yourself and family to react spontaneously and safely when the first jolt or shaking is felt.

How To Take Cover During An Earthquake – In each room of your home, identify the safest places to “drop, cover, and hold on” during an earthquake. Practice going to these safe spots during family drills to ensure that everyone learns where they are.

Preparing To Survive on Your Own After An Earthquake – Assemble and maintain a household emergency supply kit, and be sure that all family members know where it is stored. The kit should consist of one or two portable containers (e.g., plastic tubs, backpacks, duffel bags) holding the supplies that your family would need to survive without outside assistance for at least 3 days following an earthquake or another disaster. Make additional, smaller kits to keep in your car(s) and at your place(s) of work.

Have A Family And Friends Contact List – List addresses, telephone numbers, and evacuation sites for all places frequented by family members (e.g., home, workplaces, schools). Include the phone number of an out-of-state contact. Ensure that family members carry a copy of this list, and include copies in your emergency supply kits.

Care for People, Pets, and Property – Get training in first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) through your local chapter of the American Red Cross. Find out where you could shelter your pet should it become necessary to evacuate your home. Ensure that family members know how and when to call 9-1-1, how to use your home fire extinguisher, and how, where, and when to shut off your home’s utilities (water, natural gas, and electricity). Ask your state insurance commissioner about the availability of earthquake insurance in your state.

FEMA documents on preparing yourself and your family:

Are You Ready? An In-depth Guide to Citizen Preparedness (IS-22)
Earthquake Safety Checklist (FEMA 526)

After An Earthquake

When the shaking stops, look around. If there is a clear path to safety, leave the building and go to an open space away from damaged areas.
If you are trapped, do not move about or kick up dust.
If you have a cell phone with you, use it to call or text for help.
Tap on a pipe or wall or use a whistle, if you have one, so that rescuers can locate you.
Once safe, monitor local news reports via battery operated radio, TV, social media, and cell phone text alerts for emergency information and instructions.
Be prepared to “Drop, Cover, and Hold on” in the likely event of aftershocks.

Once the shaking stops, check for injuries among your family and neighbors and, as needed, administer first aid and call for emergency medical assistance. Also check for hazards in and around your home created by earthquake damage. Keep in mind that aftershocks may strike at any time, exacerbating these hazards and requiring you to immediately drop, cover, and hold on.

FEMA guidance on what to do once the shaking stops – Earthquake Safety Checklist (FEMA 526)

USGS Earthquake Map

The has a real-time earthquake map so you can see the location and strength of any earthquake worldwide.