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Remodeling University: Earthquakes and your home

With major earthquakes in Haiti and Chile causing such destruction (and unfortunately loss of life), many of us in California can’t help but think of the pending ‘big-one’. When would we be hit with the long anticipated and uniformly predicted next major earthquake? What can we do to prepare ourselves and to better protect our family ahead of such an event? And, what about earthquake insurance?

As for the ‘when’ – I think it is safe to say that no one knows. All the experts can tell us is that: 1. A significant earthquake in our area is not a question of ‘will it happen’, rather it is only a questions of ‘when will it happen’. As far as historical data goes, it would seem that we are now ‘overdue’ for a major seismic event.

So, what can you do to better prepare yourself for the inevitable:
1. Your water heater should be strapped to code.
2. While this may not be code mandated where you live, consider a gas shut-off valve.
3. Secure items in your home: place heavy items on lower shelves, install latches at cabinets with breakables, strap tall furniture pieces to the walls.
4. If you suspect a structural deficiency in your home (for example: in a past remodeling project a shear wall was significantly undermined), have a professional review it.
5. Have emergency supplies on hand: you can get a pre assembled kit or put one together on your own. Look online for what this kit should contain.
6. Develop an emergency communication plan: if a major earthquake where to hit at a time when your family members are not together, it might be very difficult to get a hold of one another. An out-of-state relative could be a great central contract.
7. Consider earthquake insurance: since the 94′ Northridge earthquake, insurance premiums for earthquake coverage have skyrocketed and the deductibles are now very high. Still, this is a great insurance to have if you can afford it. In the case of a catastrophic loss it can mean the difference between still having a home or not.

While the ‘official’ (FEMA) recommendation for personal protection during an earthquake is to seek cover under a heavy table, some experts with disaster rescue experience disagree; Rescue teams report most casualties are found under items that crushed them. Their recommendation is to lie down next to a sofa or other such large item. If heavy timber comes crushing down, a ‘safe triangle’ would be found between the lower edge of large furniture (such as a sofa) and the floor. This is where you are safest. Your best bet? outdoors, away from the building, power lines and the road.

There is not much we can do about the ‘when’ or the ‘if’ of an earthquake. We can, however, tilt the odds in our favor by recognizing the inevitability of such an event and by taking defensive measures ahead of it. As in ‘right now‘. Start today by evaluating your home for risks and by putting together an emergency kit and supplies. Get your family involved and informed…and be safe.

Good luck!

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