Nailing It Down — Prepare your home, yourself now for earthquake

Most natural disasters in the United States, don’t hit in the summertime. Yes, folks do need to keep their eyes open for forest fires in some places and tornadoes in others.

Here, on the West Coast, we don’t tend to think of needing to be prepared for emergencies in the summer because our disasters typically deal with rain storms, windy storms and sometimes snow storms and of course, flooding.

After the horrible mudslide in Oso, Wash., this year, we’ve also been made more aware of landslides.

But the one disaster that isn’t seasonal at all, is – earthquakes.

Unlike many kinds of natural disasters that tend to be seasonal, an earthquake can happen at any time of year, any time of day.

Ironically, because of the lack of seasonality to earthquakes, people tend to get relaxed, even sloppy about preparing themselves and their homes for one. There’s not a “natural” time to alert people to earthquake conditions.

Locally we felt fairly significant earthquakes in 1999 and 2001. Seismologists tell us that it’s likely another one will be coming soon.

Because of better building materials, building practices and yes, even building codes, the scope of the devastation in Haiti likely couldn’t happen here. However, that’s no reason not to prepare. If it’s your home that is ruined or your child, elderly parent or spouse that receives a lethal blow, it is still a disaster to you.


The buildings that are often hit the hardest around here are the ones in lower elevations built on fill. Filled land tends to liquefy and react like Jell-O or quick-sand when shaken.


Preparing for disaster to strike seems like an odd way to plan to spend a day. However, now is as good a time as any to protect you, your family and your home in case of an earthquake.

If your house has made it through our last two bigger earthquakes unscathed, that doesn’t guarantee that it will in the future.

So, to prepare, do the following:

• Create an emergency kit for your home and car.

• 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.


After an earthquake, we recommend that you have someone with building knowledge inspect your house if you live in an area built on fill. Also, have it looked at if many other houses in your neighborhood sustained damage. 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 jiggle?

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

• See if there are any freshly broken window panes.

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!

And if you have sustained significant damage, contact FEMA.


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

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 County.

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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