How To Prepare Your Home And Yourself For An Earthquake

Over the course of the last twenty years, the Portland area has really been placed under the proverbial microscope due to the discovery of two fairly major faults, the West Hills Fault and the East Bank Fault along with a smattering of other, smaller, seismic faults, which, as a whole, are known as the West Hills Fault Zone. Much debate has taken place over the same time period of how to prepare for future seismic events. The concern became so great, that the controversial Trojan Nuclear Energy Facility west of Portland on Highway 30 was mothballed and ultimately dismantled, in part due to the revelation of potential seismic activity.

The Marquam Bridge, over which I-5 transits the Willamette River at the South Water Front area of Portland was seismically retrofitted in 1995. The city of Portland is still wrangling with seismically updating structures constructed prior to the mid 1990’s – buildings called URM’s, or Unreinforced Masonry buildings, are under the magnifying glass mostly as they meet few, if any of the current seismic guidelines as set forth by the city. Cost is the most difficult roadblock to retrofitting these buildings. Some are historic buildings, so any modification planning need to go through proper government or historical organizations before the even the permitting process could commence.  The city certainly has their work cut out for them in getting buildings updated.  Many cities along the west coast are all looking to each other for ideas in how to incent building owners to affordably retrofit these buildings.  Unfortuantely, there is no easy answer.

So that is the big picture for Portland- the big problems that the city gets to deal with. What about the individual residences around the Portland area? What can you as a home owner or occupant, beyond seismic retrofits, to help ensure your safety in the event of an earthquake? Well, there are a whole slew of things you can do – a lot of it is common sense stuff, but some of it, once mentioned may make the proverbial light bulb illuminate. For beginners, having an emergency kit, safely tucked away in your house where everyone knows it is, and is easily accessible to everyone is important. has the following suggestions for an emergency kit at

Second would be to establish a family communications plan This is important so you can not only attempt to communicate with your direct family, but also with family and friends who may be outside the quake affected area.

Moving on, tackling the interior of the house would be next. If you were to stand in your living room, take a slow, steady spin through 360 degrees, everything you see is an object that could potentially cause injury or worse. Bookshelves, the books and everything else on said bookshelves, pictures, clocks, televisions, stereo equipment, furniture, cups, glasses, etc… they all are suspect projectiles or flying objects in an earthquake. So how do you make it all safer? Here are some suggestions:

*Secure book shelves, tall filing cabinets and tall furniture to the walls using either straps or directly bolting them to wall studs to keep them from falling over.

*Place heavier items on lower shelving

*Use safety strapping to secure televisions and stereo equipment to walls or shelves.

*Use safety strapping to secure microwave ovens, refrigerators, coffee makers, and stoves to counter tops, walls, or floors.

*Place breakable items such as bottled foods, fragile glassware, china, or the like, in enclosed cabinets, and if possible, latch the doors to keep them from falling and shattering, creating a serious hazard.

*Make sure your water heater and furnace are secured to local building codes.

*Secure pictures, mirrors, and other hanging items to walls or shelves using earthquake putty.

For the outside, check your brick or masonry chimney, decks, patios, awnings, and other items that may fall in the event of an earthquake and secure as necessary. Check with a construction professional and / or local building inspectors for suggestions on securing structural items like decks, chimneys, and awnings / roofs. Have your local electric and natural gas or propane companies come out and check all connections to ensure they are installed properly. Have an automatic gas shut-off valve installed for your natural gas connection.

You may also want to consider storing flammables and other chemicals like pesticides and herbicides in storage units with latching doors that will contain any spills.

Another item that is often overlooked is to have family safety drills, with predetermined meeting places in event of an earthquake. Having a plan, practicing it, and making sure everyone knows what they’re supposed to do in the event of an earthquake is important to everyone’s safety.

Hopefully these suggestions will help in some small way. Until next time!


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