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Preparing Your Home For A Megaquake


In the event of a major earthquake along the Cascadia Subduction Zone, Oregonians could be without help for at least 72 hours, though most experts think it could be weeks. 

While emergency management organizations like Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Red Cross will be trying to reach the most vulnerable people in the region immediately after the disaster, many people will need to shelter in place and be self-sufficient during this period.

Even before you dig into your two-week supply of pinto beans and other nonperishable foods, ensuring safety around the home should be a first priority. 

What Problems Are Likely To Arise After An Earthquake?

In this Feb. 23, 2011 file photo, Murray and Kelly James look at their destroyed house in central Christchurch, New Zealand. A magnitude-6.3 earthquake collapsed buildings, caused extensive other damage and killed dozens of people in the city.

In this Feb. 23, 2011 file photo, Murray and Kelly James look at their destroyed house in central Christchurch, New Zealand. A magnitude-6.3 earthquake collapsed buildings, caused extensive other damage and killed dozens of people in the city.

Mark Baker/AP

The violent shaking of a major earthquake can cause walls and ceilings to crack or crumble, furniture to topple and windows to shatter. Additionally, buildings could shift off of their foundations and utilities could be damaged.

All of these outcomes present a danger that needs to be addressed immediately after an earthquake. Fires are the most common hazard after an earthquake, according to the Red Cross. 

How Do I Prepare My Home?

Kieran Hickman surveys the damage to his property at Taimate, New Zealand August 16, 2013, after a 6.5 magnitude trembler. 

Kieran Hickman surveys the damage to his property at Taimate, New Zealand August 16, 2013, after a 6.5 magnitude trembler. 

Tim Cuff/NZ Herald/AP

Taking precautions can limit your risk of injury during an earthquake, and help you recover afterward.

Denise Everhart with the American Red Cross suggests using a toolkit to help you plan for an earthquake.  The Red Cross Emergency App sends alerts and notifications to Apple and Android smartphones when an earthquake occurs, helps prepare your family and home, and can find help and let others know you are safe even if the power is out.

Seismic upgrades to your home can help it better withstand violent shaking. Common upgrades include fastening the home to the foundation, reinforcing masonry walls and bracing foundations. In a multi-unit building, the building owners or operators should be able to inform you about the safety of the building and any emergency plans. 

Fastening shelves and tall furniture like bookshelves and televisions to walls can prevent heavy objects from falling during shaking. Experts also recommend moving heavy objects like mirrors or paintings away from beds as a safety precaution, and —where possible — replace glass in frames with plexiglass. If possible, heavy objects should be placed in storage areas close to the ground. 

FEMA suggests using flexible connectors for all gas appliances to prevent leaks if they move around during an earthquake.

What Are My First Steps?

During the shaking, do not try to move around, but drop, cover and hold on.  If you are in bed, stay in bed. Do not go outside until the shaking stops and you are sure it is safe to exit.

Once the shaking stops from an earthquake, you may need to respond quickly to the threat of a tsunami or landslide if you live in coastal areas or on a hillside. FEMA recommends that you immediately leave tsunami zones as soon as the shaking stops and walk to higher ground inland.

Tsunami Evacuation Route

Tsunami Evacuation Route

Eve Epstein/OPB

Aftershocks may continue for hours, days, weeks or months after the initial quake.  Drop, cover and hold on anytime one occurs. Only return to tsunami zones or areas at risk for a landslide after officials say it is safe.

Once the initial shaking ceases, you’ll also need to quickly assess if you’re injured. Seek first aid treatment for yourself before trying to help others who may be hurt or trapped by debris.

After medical issues are addressed, assess your immediate surroundings. Look for fallen debris, broken glass and hazards that could fall during aftershocks. If your home is structurally sound after the quake, experts say you should stay there. You also may need to turn off your utilities to ensure the home is safe. Listen to an  emergency radio for updated emergency information and instructions.

Many wood frame buildings may be safe after an earthquake. Older masonry buildings that haven’t been seismically retrofitted are the most likely to collapse in an earthquake. Check with a professional to assess your building’s structure before an earthquake happens.

What Types Of Things Will I Need Immediately?

There are many things you could need after an earthquake, particularly if it could take weeks before help reaches your neighborhood. Here is a quick list of things FEMA suggests you could use right after an earthquake (PDF):

  • Sturdy shoes, long pants, work gloves and a long-sleeved shirt for protection from debris
  • First aid kit
  • Fire extinguishers
  • A battery-operated or hand-crank radio for emergency broadcasts
  • Flashlight
  • Multi-purpose tool, plus tools for turning off utilities

How Will I Contact My Loved Ones?

Once you’re safe and your shelter is secure, contacting friends and family may be a top priority for you. Depending on when an earthquake occurs, you may be separated from your family, children and friends by long distances or geographic features like rivers.

Having a meet-up plan with redundancies and different scenarios worked out ahead of time can help you reunite with your friends and family after a disaster. For example, you should have meet up plans for when you’re at work and when your children are at school.

Phone networks and Internet are likely to be down or limited after an earthquake. Having two-way radios in your supplies could be useful for communicating with loved ones nearby.

The Red Cross also has several tools that allow people to check on your status after a disaster. The nonprofit’s smartphone app and Safe and Well website allow people to register on a list that anyone in the world can check. Facebook also recently developed a tool that allows you to check in with friends during a disaster.

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