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Prepare your Home and Yourself now for the next Earthquake

The devastating earthquake in Mexico City recently caught the country by surprise – as earthquakes almost always do.

It’s inspirational to witness the dedicated neighbors and volunteers who looked for survivors, comforted people and are already beginning to rebuild. And, it’s all a reminder that we here on the West Coast are also very earthquake prone.

Most kinds of natural disasters tend to have some seasonality or at least some warning signs to them. Typically earthquakes do not. As we all know they can come any hour of the day, any day of the year. And while a large earthquake is probably the biggest potential natural disaster that is likely to hit us, the lack of seasonality can lull us into complacency.

So, while we’ve been talking about disasters in general these last few weeks, we thought it was time to zero in today or earthquake preparedness.

Our last fairly significant earthquakes here were in 1999 and 2001. Seismologists tell us that it’s likely another one will be coming soon.

Different building materials, building practices and building codes here mean that we likely wouldn’t have the devastation that Mexico City has just had. However, with our nearness to the ocean, as well as a significant number of buildings built on fill, we have plenty to get ready for!

Yes, large sections of the lower elevations in Aberdeen and some of Hoquiam too are built on “fill.”

That is, that when our forefathers built up this area, large areas of swampy or lower sections were filled in with dirt or sawdust. In an earthquake, filled land tends to liquefy. It ends up and reacting like Jell-O or quick-sand when shaken.

On the flip side, houses or other structures built on the edges of hillsides that have been cut away can also be extra vulnerable in a quake. (Think landslide.)


Just because your house has sailed through those other quakes without a major mishap doesn’t mean it will go through unscathed in the next big shake.

Last week we talked in length about compiling an emergency kit with food, water and other emergency supplies. This kit should go somewhere in your home, or perhaps in your car. You may even want to have a mini one for your workplace.

Here are some other things you can do to specifically prepare your home for the possibility of an earthquake:

  • Bolt heavy furniture such as bookcases, tall file cabinets and dressers to the wall.

  • Secure or place heavy objects on lower shelves.

  • Fasten water heater and gas appliances to wall studs with strap kits.

  • Make sure your home is secured to its foundation.

  • If your foundation is post-and-beam construction, create a gusset connection with plywood or a metal strap connecting each post to its beam.

  • Learn yourself and teach family members how to turn off the electricity, water and gas. (Next week we will give specific instructions.)


Once the initial shock -- and all the subsequent shocks – of the earthquake is over, if you live in an area built on fill, we recommend that you have someone with building knowledge inspect

your house.

In addition, even if you don’t live on fill but many other houses in your neighborhood sustained damage, you will also want it inspected. Houses and soil types tend to be similar in a neighborhood.

If you are a “do-it yer’selfer,” here’s your “To Do” list of things to check after an earthquake strikes.

  • Check those components that can topple, such as a chimney, and anything overhead that may have loosened.

  • Look for cracks in the chimney’s mortar near the roofline, freshly broken bricks and dangling roof parts.

  • Bounce the floors with your body weight. Does your furniture, lamps or glasses have a new jiggle?

  • Check if the floor slopes or if your doors won’t close or are stuck closed.

  • See if there are any freshly broken windowpanes.

If you note problems with any of the last three items, you probably need to examine your foundation. In that case, it’s likely time to get an expert opinion.

If there is very obvious foundation damage, do not go under the house!

Just like bad guests earthquakes give no warning, show-up when we are least prepared, wreck the place and leave you with the mess!

The earth has been shaking forever. Since we can’t control or even accurately predict earthquakes, it’s best to prepare for their next visit.


Next week we plan to talk very specifically about how to turn off the water, electricity and gas in case of an earthquake or other disaster.

Dave Murnen and Pat Beaty are construction specialists at NeighborWorks® of Grays Harbor County, where Murnen is the executive director. This is a non-profit organization committed to creating safe and affordable housing opportunities for all residents of Grays Harbor


Do you have questions about home repair, renting, remodeling or becoming a homeowner? Call us at 533-7828, write us or visit us at 710 E. Market St. in Aberdeen.

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