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Earthquake Preparedness and Mitigation Measures: Securing the Contents of your Home
What is Earthquake Mitigation Measures?
Earthquake mitigation measures are simple techniques to secure non-structural components and contents of your home to the studs of the interior walls and/or the floors in order to reduce the risk to lives and investments. Self-mitigation techniques can be undertaken by homeowners using inexpensive hardware tools and materials found in hardware stores and home centers as they are simple to explain and require no special expertise to implement.
Why Secure your Home Contents?
According to a study from the University of California in Los Angeles, 55% of the injuries during the 1994 Northridge earthquake were caused by falling furniture or objects while only 1% of injuries were caused by building damage. Other injuries were due to people falling or behaving dangerously. Many of these injuries could have been prevented through simple actions taken before the earthquake. Therefore, you should secure anything in your home that is heavy enough to hurt if it falls on you, or fragile and expensive enough to be a significant loss if it falls. In addition, secure items in your garage to reduce damage to vehicles. The benefits of earthquake mitigation measures go well beyond being simply reducing financial losses as it will make your home safer and help in returning your family much more quickly back to their normal life style.
How to Secure your Home Contents?
The following disaster mitigation techniques are simple actions you can do today that will protect you, your family, and your investments if an earthquake occurs tomorrow.
- Move tall and heavy furniture in your home (e.g. bookcases, china cabinets, entertainment centers, armoires, etc) away from couches, sofas and other places where people sit and sleep; as they are very likely to fall when the ground is rolling and shaking.
- Secure both top corners of all heavy furniture into a wall stud (not just to the drywall) to prevent them from falling on someone you care about and to save their contents.
- Flexible-mount fasteners such as earthquake straps or nylon straps allow independent movement of tall furniture from the wall and sway without falling over, reducing the strain on the studs. Commercial kits utilizing nylon strapping are available in hardware stores, home centers, or home improvement stores such as Home Depot, Lowe’s, True Value, Ace Hardware, or Sears.
- Another inexpensive option utilizing 4" L-shape brackets and lag screws. In case of bookcases, 2" clip angles can be used.
- Display cases shall also be secured to the floor using angle brackets, in addition to the top mounting.
- Loose shelves can also be secured by applying earthquake putty on each corner bracket. Install latches on drawers and cabinet doors to keep contents from spilling. Place heavy and/or large items on lower shelves to prevent them from flying around the room during an earthquake.
Securing Exercise Equipments and Pianos
- Secure exercise equipment by screwing a clip angle to each leg and fastening the clip angle into concrete floors by drilling anchor bolts or into wood floor joists using lag bolts.
- Do not block doors or exit ways for evacuation during an emergency. Store weights in a weight rack that is secured to the floor.
- Wheel-mounted heavy furniture such as pianos shall be secured by installing restraints to the floor and the wall studs using eye-screw and bungee cord or wire.
Securing Home Electronics and Large Appliances
- Secure televisions, stereos, computers, microwave ovens, and other electronics (that are costly to replace) with flexible nylon straps and buckles for easy removal and relocation. Other alternatives are to use Velcro™ that has adhesive on the back, bungee cord, lock fasteners, leash locks, or earthquake pads.
- Lock the rollers (if exist) of large appliances such as refrigerators, stoves, dishwashers, washing machines, and dryers that may shift and/or tip over. Anchor large appliances using safety cables or straps and minimum 3/8' screw eyes that are attached to the wall studs. Ensure that the restraint is located in the upper mid-third of the appliance to provide the greatest resistance to overturning.
- In case of refrigerators, secure an angle bracket to the wall with a lag bolt for wood wall, an expansion bolt for concrete wall, or metal screw for metal stud walls. Use a metal screw to attach the angle bracket to the refrigerator. Align the angle of a pronged zee clip with the leg of the refrigerator and anchor the clip to the floor.
- Replace all rigid connections with flexible connectors and install automatic shut-off valves for both the gas and water supply system to further reduce the possibility of a water or gas line break.
Securing Objects on Open Shelves and Tabletops
- Move heavy objects and breakables to lower shelves.
- Hold collectibles, pottery, lamps and other loose valuable objects in place by using removable non-damaging adhesives such as Quake Hold™ or Museum Wax™ that are available at hardware stores or home centers.
Securing Kitchen Cabinets
- Unsecured cabinet doors fly open during earthquakes, allowing glassware and dishes to crash to the floor. Many types of inexpensive latches are available to prevent this including child-proof latches, hook and eye latches, push latches, or positive catch latches designed for boats.
- To help prevent movement of the contents of cabinets, line them with rubberized shelf mats, typically is sold in rolls at hardware stores. To protect stacked china plates, place a square of this rubberized matting between each plate in the stack.
Securing Hanging Objects
- Do not hang heavy objects above beds and sofas, only soft objects such as unframed posters or rugs.
- Hang mirrors, pictures, and other hanging objects on closed hooks so that they can't bounce off the walls. Their corners can also be secured with earthquake putty such as Quake Hold™.
- Secure ceiling lights, suspended ceilings, chandeliers and plants with closed hooks to the ceiling stud which can be detected using a stud finder available at hardware stores and home centers.
Securing Windows and Glass doors
- If you are considering a window replacement in the near future, look into replacing your windows with tempered glass (similar to automobiles glass) which is less likely to be broken into sharp pieces.
- If your budget does not allow for window replacement, an inexpensive option is to install a protective film with a minimum thickness of 4 mils on the inside of your windows, which can be purchased at any home improvement store.
Securing Hazardous Chemicals in the Garage and Utility Room
- Store paints, gasoline, and other flammable liquids away from natural gas water heater.
- Move flammable or hazardous materials to low shelves that are secure, or put them on the floor.
- Ensure that items stored above or beside vehicles cannot fall, damaging or blocking them.
- Wrap fragile bottles of hazardous materials with foam rubber or rubber bands, or replace glass containers with unbreakable containers.
Securing Water and Gas Pipes
- Ask a plumber to evaluate, replace, and properly secure rusted or worn water and gas pipes and to replace rigid gas connections to stoves, dryers, and other gas appliances with flexible (corrugated) stainless-steel gas connectors.
- Excess-flow gas-shutoff valves for individual appliances, which stop gas flow in case of a catastrophic leak, are also available for use with flexible connectors.
Securing Water Heaters and Natural Gas Appliances
- About one in four fires after an earthquake is related to natural gas leaks due to gas appliances (water heaters, dryers, stoves, ovens, furnaces) that are not anchored to the floor or walls, or do not have flexible pipe connections.
- Experiences from past earthquakes demonstrate that water heaters are of special concern. Unsecured water heaters often fall over, rupturing rigid water and gas connections.
- Water heaters should be braced to the wall studs or masonry with two heavy-gauge metal straps (plumber’s tape is no longer recommended) and lag screws near the top and bottom of the tank.
- Bracing kits (that include the strapping, lag screws, washers, spacers, and tension bolts) are available at hardware stores, home centers, or home improvement stores.
- Ask a plumber to install flexible (corrugated) copper water connectors.
- Be sure to check the straps once a year as they may come loose due to vibrations.
- Bracing your water heater would cost $20 to $200. Remember that replacing a water heater after an earthquake can cost more than $500, while repairing fire damage or flooding damage can cost several thousand dollars, including the entire cost of your home!
- Know where your main water and gas valves are so that you, your spouse, or teen(s) can shut them off in case of leakage.
Screwdrivers & Stud Locators
Variable Speed Drills
The 2010 Haiti earthquake is a wake up call for anyone who lives in an active seismic region to know how to reduce the risk to lives and investments by establishing an earthquake preparedness plan that include –among other items– securing the contents of the home to the studs of the interior walls and/or the floors. Earthquake mitigation measures will make your home safer and help in returning your family much more quickly back to their normal life style. In the United States, these seismic regions include –but not limited to– Alaska and the West Coast especially California; the Midwestern States especially Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee around the New Madrid and the Wabash Valley Seismic Zones; and the Charleston area in South Carolina.