How to Prep Your Home for Earthquakes

You have you go bag and stay bag, you made and practice an emergency plan, and you know how and when to shut off your utilities. What else do you need to do to prepare for an earthquake?

Start with a room-by-room evaluation of your home to identify safety hazards.

Bedrooms: relocate any heavy wall art, mirrors or other objects that could fall and cause injury while you are in bed. Secure lighter over-bed wall hangings with earthquake hangers. Assess the location of wardrobes, dressers, and bookshelves: in a strong earthquake, could any furnishings fall on your bed or block escape routes? Move and/or attach these items to wall studs, and remove or block rollers on bedroom furnishings. Next, review the location of your bed. If your bed is under a window, an earthquake could result in broken glass on and all around your bed. Consider moving your bed several feet from windows, or cover windows with shatter-proof film and long curtains. It's highly recommended that you store a plastic bag close to your bed containing a thick-soled pair of shoes and a flashlight in case you need to evacuate and your path may have broken glass or other hazards.

Bathrooms: the biggest earthquake hazard in most bathrooms is broken glass from mirrors, shower doors, and toiletries. Move heavy or fragile things to a lower storage area like a vanity drawer, and install a cabinet latch or child lock to your medicine cabinet door. You may want to keep an extra pair of thick-soled shoes in your bathroom in case of broken glass. Make sure that any cleaning chemicals are segregated and stored low to the ground in a child-secured cabinet or drawer.

Kitchen: kitchens contain a lot of risk in an earthquake: broken glass, heavy falling objects, gas-fed fire, and mixed chemicals. Move heavy items and glass and porcelain tableware to lower cabinet shelves. Install earthquake latches on cabinet doors (you can also use childproof locks), to reduce the risks of broken glass on the floor and heavy falling objects. For open shelves, install either guard rails or bungee cords to help prevent contents from sliding off. Make sure that any cleaning chemicals are segregated and stored low to the ground in a child-secured cabinet or drawer. Secure any heavy wall hangings with stud-mounted earthquake hangers, and mount heavy or fragile objects with museum putty. If you have wheeled carts or furnishings in your kitchen, remove, block or lock the wheels. Keep a fire extinguisher and/or fire-retardant blanket in the kitchen, and inspect/replace batteries in your smoke and CO2 detectors annually.

Living room: all furnishings in your living areas need to be secured to wall studs, including entertainment centers, cabinets, and bookshelves. Mount your TV with straps to prevent toppling. Use earthquake hangers and museum putty to secure frames and fragile decor. Consider getting a landline phone to make calls to emergency services, in case cell towers are jammed.

Garage, basement, etc.: ensure that chemicals, paints, propane, etc. are properly segregated and stored in child-proof cabinets or drawers close to the ground. Move any heavy objects that may fall in an earthquake, especially those that could fall on a gas or water line, your vehicle, etc.

Across your home: identify at least two exit points per room. If there are obstacles to any exits, like a multi-floor drop out of a window, make a backup plan and get any necessary supplies such as an evacuation ladder. Make sure you have at least one smoke detector and one CO2 detector per floor of your home: ideally in each bedroom and other rooms where you spend a lot of time.

Financial preparation: earthquake insurance is costly, but repairing or rebuilding your home and replacing all of your valuables is much more expensive. Keep or digitize receipts, and take photos of your belongings and the rooms of your home. Make copies of important documents, and store originals in a safe or fireproof-waterproof pouch.

Bigger considerations: if you live in an area that experiences frequent earthquakes, your local government likely enforces building codes designed to minimize injury and loss of life. San Francisco enacted its Mandatory Soft Story Retrofit Program (MSSP) in 2013 in order to bolster the resilience of older wood-frame homes and buildings. Retrofitting can include bolting the frame of the building to its foundation, reinforcing short walls in crawl space ("cripple walls") to prevent collapse, and bolstering large openings like bottom-floor garages. The city of San Francisco has provided a guide to serve property owners, tenants, and contractors. You can look up your address on the map to see the compliance tier and retrofit status of your residence, and find resources to get the work done.

Next guide: what to do during (and after) an earthquake >>

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