Experts offer tips to make home disaster-ready

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: FEMA - A 6.0 magnitude earthquake shook Napa, Calif., last August, and a red tag on the door of this house warns that its has been deemed unsafe by building inspectors.It’s not a matter of “if” — it’s a matter of “when.”

That’s what most experts are saying about a huge earthquake that could strike anytime.

“Oregon lies at a convergent continental boundary where two tectonic plates are colliding,” states the website “The Great Oregon ShakeOut” at

The site notes that the Cascadia Subduction Zone is a 600 mile long earthquake fault that stretches from offshore northern California to southern British Columbia.

“This fault builds up stress for hundreds of years as the Juan de Fuca and North America Plates push against each other,” the website states. “Eventually, the two plates rip apart, creating some of the largest earthquakes and tsunamis on earth ... The Oregon coastline is actually bulging upward from the two plates pushing against each other.”

If that doesn’t scare you, there are at least five other faults in our area that can cause earthquakes, and some experts say we’re long overdue for “The Big One,” since a subduction zone earthquake happens about every 300 years with the last occurring in 1700.

Getting ready

To prepare for a big quake, numerous individuals, businesses, groups and other organizations participated in The Great ShakeOut Drill. Companies or agencies that have a public address system can play a recorded earthquake sound.

Participants dropped to the ground, took cover by getting under a sturdy desk or table and held on to the desk or table for 60 seconds. In a real earthquake, you’d wait till the shaking stops.

So now that you’ve been warned, what can you do to prepare your house for an earthquake? We talked to various experts in Oregon, and here’s what they told us.

Althea Rizzo, geologic hazards program coordinator for the Oregon Office of Emergency Management, says homeowners can take some simple steps to prepare for a quake.

Place household items safely

Falling books, lamps and other household items can hurt you in a quake, so try to secure as much stuff as possible, Rizzo says. For example, put all your heavy items, including books, on bottom shelves.

Meanwhile, FEMA — the Federal Emergency Management Agency — offers similar advice on its earthquake

preparation website, COURTESY OF FEMA - FEMA - the Federal Emergency Management Agency - put together this illustration to show homeowners where they need to look when preparing their home to withstand an earthquake.

“Walk through each room of your home and make note of these items, paying particular attention to tall, heavy, or expensive objects such as bookcases, home electronics ... and items hanging from walls or ceilings,” FEMA says. “Secure these items with flexible fasteners, such as nylon straps, or with closed hooks, or by relocating them away from beds and seating, to lower shelves, or to cabinets with latched doors. Ensure that plumbers have installed flexible connectors on all gas appliances.”

Secure your heaters

Rizzo advises strapping in your water and gas heaters, which could tip over in a quake. If they break a power or gas line, that can cause a fire, she says. You can get low-cost straps at your local hardware store, often for less than $20. This minimal investment can prevent a fire from occurring since a heater tipping over can rupture rigid lines.

Secure freestanding bookshelves with brackets

Use metal L-shaped brackets, which are easy to install. One side attaches to the shelves, and the other side attaches to a stud in the wall.

Check your foundation and cripple walls

Homes in Oregon built prior to 1960 are generally not bolted to their foundations, says Kelle Landavazo, emergency management coordinator for the City of Gresham. Meanwhile, Stephanie Swanson, director of marketing for Clean Energy Works, a Northwest nonprofit organization that guides homeowners through home upgrades, including seismic retrofits, says there are at least 100,000 homes in Portland built before 1973. That’s when Oregon updated its building codes to reflect our state’s earthquake vulnerability — and that these homes could use seismic safety upgrades, Swanson says. Seismic upgrades provide a proven way to “harden” a home and give it stability during the violent shaking of an earthquake, she says.

Last year, CEW partnered with the city of Portland to get FEMA grants to offset the costs to upgrade 23 homes and is doing so again this year, hoping to increase that number to 100, Swanson says. Homeowners can always work with Clean Energy Works to locate qualified seismic contractors to do the work. Scheduling the work takes about 30 to 45 days for an appointment with a contractor who’ll conduct an in-home visit to assess the work potential and recommend a scope of work.

Reinforcing and upgrading a home includes bolting the house to its foundation, reinforcing the cripple wall (the short wall between the first floor and the foundation), and shoring up the posts and beams that bear weight under a home.

Meanwhile, both women advise shoring up your house’s cripple walls with plywood, as cripple walls — often found between a home’s first floor and its foundation — tend to be the weakest of any walls on your house. Shoring up your cripple walls will reduce their tendency to move side to side during a quake.

Check your chimney

Brick chimneys don’t fare well in an earthquake, Landavazo says, and unreinforced brick or stone masonry may need to be replaced. An

engineer or architect is required to design these types of repairs.

Other experts advise checking the mortar between the bricks or stones with a screwdriver. If it crumbles when you pick at it, the chimney may be a hazard.

Inspect the attic and floor spaces for metal ties that should be holding the chimney to the house as well.

Other tips

Clean Energy Works offers these other tips to homeowners:

n Framing anchors: Attach rim joist to mud sills and floor joist to mud sills. Framing anchors fasten wood members to each other, and foundation anchors help more strongly connect the house to the foundation.

n Install a gas emergency shutoff valve.

n Improve your home’s masonry: Footers and basement walls made of concrete, brick or stone may need evaluation and reinforcement or replacement.

n Post and beam reinforcement: Brackets add resistance to side-to-side motion.

n Porch strengthening: Add new posts and beams inside box beams and hollow columns.

For more information about Clean Energy Works, visit

Go to top
Template by JoomlaShine