The reality that an earthquake can happen at any time is one that Californians are used to living with and the recent quakes felt in July 2019 reinforced this reality. However, the difference between being aware of the possibility and being prepared for it is significant.
Government experts tell us that it’s only a matter of time before a major quake rocks the state. The potential for serious damage to structures exists, especially if homeowners and building owners haven’t taken steps to properly secure their properties. There are many areas that you may have overlooked or simply never considered to be especially dangerous during an earthquake. Now is the best time to prep and protect your home.
Local, city and state governments alike can and are making efforts to get ready for future quakes. As a homeowner, you can do many things to ensure that your house and your family are as safe and secure as possible when a quake occurs. From simple steps at home like reinforcing your garage and garage doors to more detailed measures like creating a family disaster preparedness plan, homeowners can mitigate potential damage.
California’s Recent Quakes: A Reminder to Be Ready
2 significant earthquakes recently rocked California, leaving many residents startled. After a period of relative calm, Californians were once again put on notice that the “big one” may very well occur in the foreseeable future. The most recent seismic activity is a reminder that residents need to be ready and well-prepared for the possibility of more powerful quakes to come.
On the Fourth of July, Southern California was rocked by a magnitude 6.4 event. It was 10:33 in the morning when residents were shaken by the tremblor. It could be felt as far away as Reno and Las Vegas Nevada and Phoenix Arizona. A strong aftershock clocked in at magnitude 5.4 the following morning.
Another even stronger earthquake followed on July 5th, measuring magnitude 7.1. That quake struck in Ridgefield and was felt in Long Beach. An estimated 15 million people felt the effects of the July 5th tremblor. Thousands of aftershocks continued in the days following.
The July 4th and 5th earthquakes were the strongest in the state in the last two decades. After a nearly 5 year stretch of quakes coming in at magnitude 6 or under, it’s a great reminder that the threat remains and should be taken seriously.
Preparation is Critical for Californians
Governor Gavin Newsom urged Californians to see the July quakes as a wake-up call. It’s not just homeowners that need to make changes for better earthquake preparedness. The state government is spending over $40 million to expand their warning system, including $16 million for thousands of sensors that will detect seismic activity in the moments before the quake strikes. This early warning system will allow trains and utilities to be safely shut down ahead of major rocking and shaking. Those precious seconds of notice can go a long way to protecting infrastructure and reducing injuries.
For homeowners, the cost of earthquake readiness isn’t nearly as expensive. Spending money now to secure your house can save you a lot of heartache, stress, and money. Start identifying hazards in the home, from minor ones with simple fixes to those that are more involved. There’s a lot that you can do right now to get ready. In the following section, we explore possible weaknesses with the garage and how to go about correcting those potential problem areas.
Guide to Garage Earthquake Safety: Fixing Home Earthquake Weaknesses
For homeowners, shoring up your property and making it as damage-proof as possible is essential. Earthquake-proofing the most vulnerable areas of the home not only protects the integrity of the structure, but it also helps protect your family.
Your home is typically your most valuable asset, and it’s where you and your loved ones feel most secure. While the garage door might not seem like a serious threat, it can cause tremendous damage during seismic activity if not properly reinforced. Taking proactive measures now can prevent costly damage.
Potential Problems with Garage Doors during an Earthquake
When surveying your home in its current state, you may not consider the garage door to be a big risk, and therefore not a priority. The garage can actually be one of the bigger weaknesses that a home has during a seismic event. Many older homes and even some newer ones should be retrofitted to meet earthquake-resistant building standards.
Garage doors are one of the most significant weak spots in a building because of their size. The large opening reduces the amount of structural support that the garage has, and this is especially problematic is there’s a room above the garage. That could be a place where loved ones are sleeping, hanging out, or even just passing through when an earthquake occurs. That’s why it’s so important that the garage and garage doors not be overlooked when securing the home.
With strong enough rocking and shaking, garages can collapse, taking down the room above it. According to FEMA’s Homeowner’s Guide to Earthquake Safety, many homes have suffered severe damage as a result of garage collapse in past earthquakes. As a homeowner, you simply can’t afford to overlook or ignore the necessity of an earthquake-ready garage door.
Identifying Issues with Your Garage Door
If you’ve never thought about the need for securing the garage doors in the event of an earthquake, now is the time. Take steps to ensure that they’re ready to withstand damage from shaking and rocking in a quake. If you have an older home that hasn’t been modified to meet today’s updated building standards, you’ll likely need to retrofit.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to predict just how severe and intense the shaking may be, and thus how bad the damage from the next earthquake will be. However, there are a few simple changes that can make the difference between a garage that collapses and one that withstands seismic activity. Retrofitting your garage door and bracing the side walls are the best ways to prevent serious structural damage to your home.
Having a room above the garage makes it an especially vulnerable spot for damage. That’s because the weight of the room is supported only on 3 complete walls and one wall with a significant opening for the garage door. Shaking during an earthquake can leave the garage unable to bear the load, and bracing the narrow walls along the garage door will help to secure the room above.
The first step is to contact a registered engineer to assess your garage. Not only will they be able to quickly identify potential issues, but they’ll also be able to offer easy and affordable solutions. They’ll look to see if the garage door opening is in line with the rest of the house and whether additional bracing is needed to maximize the structural integrity of the home. The garage door may need to be retrofitted or replaced to meet the demands of strong seismic conditions.
How to Secure Your Garage Door for an Earthquake
If it is determined that your garage door is not currently secure, the good news for homeowners is that the solution isn’t complicated or too costly. Reinforcement can be done by a skilled garage door repairman. By reinforcing the garage door, weight is added which affects the door’s balance and applying additional pressure on the garage door springs. As a result, the garage door may be out of balance, causing excessive wear and tear of the garage door’s mechanisms such as rollers, hinges, cables and automatic garage door opener. Therefore, the spring’s torque levels may need to be adjusted and in some cases, the springs need to be replaced to a bigger size to handle and support the added weight; another task that’s best left to an expert garage door repair company to ensure that it’s done correctly.
When it comes to the garage structure, bracing will be installed on the narrow side walls to reinforce the integrity of the garage and help it withstand the impact of seismic activity. Options for bracing include sturdy plywood panels or steel. The bracing will frame the garage door opening, adding strength in the event of shaking.
Other Potential Issues to Look for in the Garage
Another aspect of garage safety in the event of an earthquake is securing the home’s mechanical elements. When located in the garage, these components should be strapped to the wall and bolted to the floor. Water heaters should be braced and secured using straps and screws. To be effective, the screws have to be secured into the wall studs, not just the drywall.
In addition to mechanical components, things like shelving and storage units should also be attached to the wall or floor to prevent them from falling over. Securing these tall, heavy items in position will keep them from crashing down during a powerful quake.
Keep breakable items stored on lower shelves. Use latches to secure cabinet doors and keep them closed. Flammable products and those containing chemical ingredients should also be stored on lower shelves, preferably secured in closed cabinets.
Flexible pipes, as opposed to rigid pipes, should be used for gas and water lines. This may mean replacing rigid pipes in your home, which is best done by a skilled professional. Taking care of all of these potential issues now can both save you money and spare your home when a powerful earthquake does strike California again.
Here’s what you should (and shouldn’t) do during an earthquake
In addition to securing your home, you also need to be earthquake-ready by understanding the best ways to stay safe. Knowing what to do if an earthquake occurs can mean the difference between life and death. Protect yourself and your loved ones from injury during the quake by making smart and safe choices. These do’s and don’ts are critical:
- Do stay indoors. Don’t leave the home or building and head outside. You’re safer indoors during a quake.
- Do head to open space if you are already outdoors. Avoid staying too close to buildings, power lines, or any other structure that can come crashing down.
- Do get low and stay low. According to the Earthquake Country Alliance, “Drop, Cover, and Hold On” is the best action to take. This advice is based on the recommendation of researchers and emergency managers from around the world. If possible, crawl underneath of a table or desk and grab ahold of it while shaking occurs, but don’t move more than 5 to 7 feet to do so.
- Don’t stay next to exterior walls or too close to appliances or other heavy furnishings. Stay close to interior walls.
- Don’t stand in a doorway. This is a common mistake, as many people believe it’s a safe place to ride out the shaking. However, standing in a doorway as the quake occurs puts you at risk, should a collapse occur.
- Don’t stop your vehicle under an overpass or bridge. Try to safely move out of traffic and park in an open, clear space. Hazards to avoid include power lines and utility poles, traffic lights, signs, and trees.
- Don’t have a false sense of security based on past earthquake experiences. You never know how severe the magnitude, how long the shaking will continue, and what the outcome will be.
- Do stay calm. Get down and use your arms to cover your head if no desk or table is available.
Taking the right actions during an earthquake reduces your risk of injury. When you feel shaking, understand that it could be a foreshock, meaning that a larger quake may follow shortly. Aftershocks are also less powerful, but can cause shaking that’s still unnerving. Staying calm and staying safe are the best things you can do when seismic activity occurs.
The recent earthquakes felt in Orange County and surrounding areas in California shouldn’t be cause for panic. While they were frightening for those who experienced them, earthquakes aren’t exactly unexpected. They do serve as an excellent reminder of the importance of proper preparation. The reality is that Californians have to be ready for future events, and taking those necessary steps now can make a significant difference.
As a homeowner in California, you can take simple steps to secure your home and ensure the integrity of your structure and garage doors. Doing so reduces the risk of physical harm to you and your loved ones, as well as damage to the property.
Take the time to create an emergency preparedness plan for your house and family. Put it into action by surveying your home to assess potential weaknesses and working with qualified technicians. From securing the garage doors to bracing mechanical components, there are many easy and effective ways to get your home earthquake-ready.