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This Old House - Do-it-Yourself

Earthquake Preparedness Tips That Will Get Your Family Ready For An Emergency

Written by Jaymi Naciri Posted On Sunday, 08 April 2018 13:13

We all do it. We get a little comfortable in our day-to-day lives and we get lazy about safety measures. And then we get a reminder, like the recent 5.3 earthquake in Southern California. In light of the trembler, it's a good time to revisit earthquake preparedness and take steps to incorporate safety measures into your home, whether you're in Southern California where they're naturally occurring, or in a place like north Texas or Oklahoma, where they are (probably) the product of fracking. It's important to remember, too, that these measures can also be adapted/applied to other natural disasters or emergency situations, so even if you're not in an earthquake-prone area, it's a good idea to get cracking on (or review) your existing family plans.

Have a "go bag" ready

There are numerous resources online, like this one from Ready.gov, that outline the basics essential for a good go bag that you can grab and use in an emergency. One should be created for the home, and don't forget to add one to each car in the family, with edits and/or additions where necessary. Beyond the basics, like a gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, and at least three days of non-perishable food, you'll also want a flashlight, phone chargers, batteries, a first-aid kit, and medicine (everyone's prescriptions as well as pain relievers if they're not in your kit).

You also want to think about the needs of your individual family - kids, pets, and older family members may need special items. And, make sure you keep important documents and valuables in a place where they can be easily accessed as well.

Prepare your car

In addition to a go bag for each car, don't forget the most essential thing: "Fill up your tank! It's not safe to drive around with so little gas!" Those Mom words probably still reverberate through your head, but she happens to be right. While you can't have a full tank at every moment, making sure you don't let the tank get dangerously low is always a smart move - especially if you want to make sure you're prepared in an emergency.

Make sure everyone knows what to do

In California, kids do earthquake drills in school so they know where to go and how to best protect themselves should one strike. But they may be confused about how to apply that to home, a friend's house, or another location. Running practice drills at home will give you the confidence to know everyone is up on what to do should the ground start to shake, especially if you're in a state that may do tornado drills but fail to prepare kids for what to do in an earthquake.

You also want to make sure everyone in the house knows what to do should they be trapped in rubble. Adding a whistle for everyone to the go bag is key. "Teach everyone in your household to use emergency whistles and/or to knock three times repeatedly if trapped," said Earthquake Country. "Rescuers searching collapsed buildings will be listening for sounds.

Make a family communication plan

You may be separated from loved ones when an earthquake occurs, and cell phones may be down, making it hard to get ahold of each other. In the 1994 Northridge, CA quake, local phone lines were down but long distance lines remained functional. Designating an out-of-state friend or family member as a go-to for calls can help you get in touch. In addition, Earthquake Country recommends that your family communication plan include:

  • Select a safe place outside of your home to meet your family or housemates after the shaking stops.
  • Provide all family members with a list of important contact phone numbers.
  • Keep your children's school emergency release card current.

Consider earthquake insurance

According to the California Department of Insurance, homeowners in California, one of the states that is most prone to earthquakes, and, especially, deadly quakes, do not have to have earthquake insurance. However, "If you have homeowner's insurance in California, your company must offer to sell you earthquake insurance. It must offer this every other year." NBC News reported a few years back that "only 10 percent of California's 7 million plus homeowners have earthquake insurance - and that number has dropped by more than 50 percent since the deadly Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989 that killed 63 people.

Part of the reason: People may not realize they're not covered under their homeowner's insurance, they said. But also, they don't want to pay for it if they don't have to. According to Sunde Schirmers, product management director for USAA's property and casualty group, "for most states, the average cost for coverage is between $100 and $300 annually. California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska tend to have higher premiums, with an average cost around $800. But the California Earthquake Authority and Governor's Office of Emergency Services offers a discount program for policies on homes that are braced and bolted to the foundation. A grant is available as well."

Damage from a minor quake can shatter windows and breakables and knock down bookcases and other furniture items. "A 7.0-magnitude quake usually triggers catastrophic damage to masonry and frame structures," said USAA. "Given the potential damage, the cost may be an easy expense to justify. According to a study by the Consortium of Universities for Research in Earthquake Engineering, estimated damage resulting from an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.0 will equal more than 30% of your home's value."

Seismic retrofitting

Depending on the age of your home, there may be some structural issues that need to be addressed to make your home safer during an earthquake.

"Also known as ‘seismic retrofitting,' reinforcing your home's structure ensures that the foundation, floor, and walls are fastened together and bolted down, from below the ground up, better protecting it from earthquakes," said Farmers Insurance. "Work with a licensed contractor or an engineer to reinforce your home's structure, rather than trying to do it yourself."

Necessary retrofits may include:

Repairing and Bolting the foundation. "Keep in mind older homes are especially in danger of frail or cracked foundations," they said.

Bracing the cripple walls. "Another smart upgrade involves adding plywood sheathing to shore up the cripple wall or the short wood wall, which extends from the foundation to beneath the floor of the house. If the cripple wall is not stiff enough, it can literally cripple your main floor, which can buckle under the pressure of an earthquake."

Bracing unreinforced chimneys and walls. "Some older homes have walls or chimneys made of brick or other masonry, which aren't braced securely. During an earthquake, they can crumble or crash into your home. A licensed contractor or engineer can inspect your chimney and recommend any repairs."

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