Make Your Home QuakeSmart

Look up, Look around, Look down: Make your home QuakeSmart

By Terry Sheridan, FLASH Consumer Blogger

This is the first of two blog posts marking the 20th anniversary of the 6.7-magnitude Northridge earthquake that devastated a four-county area of Southern California in the early hours of Jan. 17, 1994, killing 60 people, injuring 7,000 and damaging 40,000 buildings, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Like most college students at 4:30 in the morning, Mark Benthien was fast asleep in his UCLA dorm room when the Northridge quake hit. The shaking ground tumbled bikes, a TV, books and odds and ends to the floor.

He wasn’t hurt. But others died in ways that likely could have been prevented with a few safeguards. News accounts describe a man who died from head injuries sustained when a microwave oven crashed into him in his mobile home. Two people died when hundreds of pounds of books, model trains and other collectibles crushed and suffocated them.

Benthien, now an earthquake expert who coordinates Great ShakeOut drills and directs education and outreach for the Southern California Earthquake Center at the University of Southern California-Dornsife, says complacency about earthquake risks can be your biggest foe.

“We diminish what we’re told about risk,” he says. “And certainly that’s true about earthquakes because the larger ones happen less often and people feel smaller earthquakes on a somewhat regular basis.”

Getting too comfortable with quakes that do little or no damage to your home might lead you to assume your house is earthquake-proof, he says. And then the big one comes along.

Benthien has spent thousands of dollars on shoring up the 1,000-square-foot home that he bought in 2007. Built in 1926, the house and surrounding homes were damaged in the Northridge quake — including toppled brick chimneys that couldn’t withstand the sideways motion from the shake.

Retrofitting the foundation cost $6,000, and included bracing and bolting the “cripple wall” between the foundation and first-floor joists. A cripple wall carries the weight of the house and creates a crawl space. If it isn’t braced to withstand horizontal movement, it can collapse – and so can your house.

Before the ground shakes again, here’s what you can do to protect your home.

  • Look up:  Overhead objects like ceiling fans and chandeliers should be bolted to ceiling joists or beams with wire cable that has slack to allow sideways movement.
  • Look around: Objects hung on walls, heavy furniture, shelved items, electronics and cabinet doors can be fastened or held down with a variety of hooks and straps screwed into studs, Velcro or museum putty, and latches to keep items from becoming airborne, falling over or opening.
  • Look down: Secure appliances and protect water connections and gas lines. Consider installing an automatic gas shut-off valve outside.
  • Prepare a disaster survival kit:  Have enough food and water to last each person for three days. Don’t forget medications, pet needs, cash, important papers, keys.
  • Contact your insurance company or agent and consider buying earthquake insurance today.
  • Consider an expert:  Have an engineer examine your home’s structure to make sure your home is properly braced and secured to the foundation.

Special Note:   In recognition of this historic event, experts, policymakers and thought leaders from across the country will gather for the Northridge 20 Symposium January 16 – 17 in Los Angeles to discuss lessons learned and best practices, share new advances in technology and engineering, and consider innovative policies and programs to reduce earthquake risk.

Find out more at these websites:

FLASH DIY Mitigation Video – Earthquake

Editor’s Note:  Terry Sheridan is an award-winning journalist who has more than 30 years of experience in reporting and editing for newspapers in the Chicago and Miami areas. She covered the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew’s devastation in 1992 in South Florida, and has experienced damage to her own homes from two hurricanes. She now lives in New Hampshire

Leave a Reply