It can be a terrifying experience to feel totally at the mercy of Mother Nature. Whether it be a tornado, hurricane, tsunami, lightning strike, wildfire or an earthquake, there is absolutely nothing you can do to keep the event from happening. It all comes down to riding it out and surviving the effects of the disaster and creating a plan of survival dealing with the after effects.
Just a few days ago, a 7.0 earthquake hit the Indonesian tourist island of Lombok leaving thousands homeless and resulted in 98 dead with that number expected to climb. There were more than 230 who were seriously injured primarily by falling objects.
One report by the Associated Press quoted a tourist experience when the quake struck, “We were sitting there having dinner at about 7 o’clock last night, we just felt a really big sort of shaking and the lights went off and everyone just ran,” Australian tourist Kim Liebelt said as he waited with other travelers for a flight out at Lombok’s international airport.
“And then the roof started falling down on us, rocks and rubble and then just everyone running to get away,” he said.
Unfortunately, this is how most earthquake related deaths occur, objects falling on individuals. Death or injury can come from large furniture of appliances toppling over or items falling off the walls or shelves. Or in more severe cases, buildings falling or collapsing on those inside.
Fortunately, for most of us who live in a first world country like the United States, most home construction in the last fifty years with wooden framed walls would be far more resistant to collapse in an earthquake when compared to rock or brick homes in third world countries.
Nevertheless, the threat of serious injury or death still exists in our homes if a significant earthquake strikes.
There are three primary causes of injury or death in the event of an earthquake. Let’s discuss each and how we can mitigate the potential of injury.
As we furnish and decorate our homes, most of us don’t give much thought as to the potential of furniture or appliances falling over or items falling off the walls. We simply want our homes to look nice and feel homey. This doesn’t have to change but it would be extremely beneficial if a few extra steps were taken.
This should be a family affair – get everyone involved in the process of making your home earthquake resistant. It will significantly help the younger ones understand the importance on thinking ahead and preparing to avoid possible injury.
The family should go into each room of the house and together analyze the items in the room imagining that the room was being violently shaken. What would fall, what would topple over, what would break? Make a list of these items of concern and then determine how to keep the item in place.
Anything with a high profile will surely fall over. If it’s a large book shelf or entertainment center, there would be a significant amount of weight from additional objects that could crush a small child.
Any of these items must be anchored to the wall. One method I’ve used is with cabinet screws and large fender washers. I’ve driven screws through the shelves into studs in the wall. I’ve positioned the screws about three fourths the way up the shelf in a place where they can easily be covered by books or other items.
Mirrors and large pictures hanging on the walls can also create a real hazard in an earthquake. Taking the time to make sure these items are anchored into a stud and not just on a nail through drywall will help keep them from falling.
Then there are all the smaller items we us to decorate or homes, many of which are glass. Even a small vase falling off the top of a shelf could cause serious injury or death to a child.
There are solutions to this as well. I’ve used museum putty to securely attach such items to shelves, mantles and counters in our home. This putty is very sticky and never dries out. Just a small amount around the bottom rim of the item and then firmly push it down where you want to place it and it’s not going anywhere.
Fires are very common as a result of an earthquake primarily due to natural gas lines being ruptured. Now there’s not much you can do to keep this from happening outside your home but inside is where you need to focus.
The primary culprit of a home fire resulting from an earthquake is the water heater. Filled with water, a typical 55 gallon water heater can weigh up to 700 lbs. As a result of its small foot print and tall profile, even though it’s attached to both water and gas lines, if it starts rocking violently, it will break both the water and gas lines.
Now, the slightest spark will ignite the open gas line and the potential of the house burning to the ground is very high.
On most new home construction, anchoring straps for the water heater are required. If you water heater is not strapped to the wall, go to Lowes or Home Depot and purchase the straps and get them installed right away. It’s an east DIY project.
Also, knowing how to shut off the gas and electricity to you home could save your home from burning. You should show and teach every member of your family how to accomplish these tasks. You will want to attach a gas valve wrench to your gas meter so you will always have the necessary tool to shut off your gas.
Flooding comes primarily from three different sources.
1) Ruptured water lines, both inside and outside your home. There should be two shut off valves for the water lines that come into your home. One should be out in your yard by the street where your home line attaches to the main water line feeding all the homes on your street. You will typically need a long water key or a wrench to shut off the water at this location.
Then there is the hand valve located inside your home typically right where the main water line enters your house from the outside. Both of these valves can become difficult to close over time with mineral deposits building up. You should close and open these valves every year or so to keep them easy to for any family member to shut off.
2) Ruptured dams on lakes and reservoirs that are upstream from your home. This scenario would typically affect a much smaller number of families. Nevertheless, in the event of a severe earthquake, immediate evacuation to higher ground is the only way to save lives. Saving one’s home should not be a concern – saving lives should.
3) Liquefaction of the soil. In sandy, loose soil, when the earth shakes, it brings water to the surface. This is called liquefaction. Depending on the soil condition of where you live, this may or may not be a concern. Back in 1964, there was a 7.6 magnitude earthquake in Niigata, Japan. Due to the poor soil conditions, liquefaction caused major flooding and some building simply toppled over as the soil underneath them was displaced by water.
Earthquake preparedness should be a family affair. Simple awareness and a few minor Saturday afternoon projects will go a long way in providing the safely and peace of mind you and your family deserve.