We all know that earthquakes cannot yet be predicted with accuracy. Seismologists can only state with confidence that another major quake in San Francisco is inevitable. In fact, they say the promised Big One has yet to hit us, and a significant quake is likely to shake with a vengeance sometime within the next 30 years. The nature of this prediction — the explicit promise of disaster combined with the vaguest of time frames — has led to a necessary denial among San Franciscans to simply "not think about it." Unfortunately, many people overshoot the goal "not think about it" and end up ignoring earthquake preparation entirely — preparation that could do much to ensure their safety in the event of this looming disaster.
- What are some basics steps you can take to prepare for an earthquake?
Start by making your home as secure as possible. Try the following exercise as you walk through all the rooms. Imagine walls and floors violently trembling and think about which items pose a safety threat: unsecured shelves, light fixtures and ceiling fans, paintings, mirrors over beds or couches, glass or heavy items in high cabinets, etc. Use common sense. It's not the shaking itself but falling objects that cause injuries during and after a quake. Secure or move any items that present a potential danger: put heavy and/or breakable items on lower shelves; bracket bookcases and other tall or unstable furniture into wall studs; attach self-locking closures to cabinet doors and overhead storage spaces, especially those that contain glass, porcelain or other breakable items; reinforce all overhead fixtures. For more information and tips on securing your home, see the FEMA National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program Fact Sheet.
Most importantly, do not overlook household repairs! If your wiring or gas connection is faulty, be proactive and fix it now. A small defect can become a major fire hazard in a quake. On that note, remember to store flammable products in a secure place, preferably outside the house, to prevent their breaking open and spilling. California State law also mandates that you brace your water heater according to required specifications. See our Water Heater Bracing article for details. Look for cracks in your ceiling, walls and foundations, too. If any defects look substantial, have an inspector assess your home for seismic safety. Repairs may be costly but not as devastating as they could be post-disaster. Also see our Seismic Retrofitting article for more details on this level of earthquake preparation.