How to Prepare for the Next Earthquake in California
It’s been decades since Californians have felt a 6.0+ magnitude earthquake which is why the recent July quakes measuring in at 6.4 and 7.1 shook our team (literally) to the core.
Although most of us know earthquakes in Los Angeles are a matter of when, not if, the majority of people are unprepared because of complacency or denial the recipe for becoming a victim.
If you were caught off-guard like we were, here are some tips to help you prepare now for the next big one, which hopefully won’t be happening any time soon!
How to Prepare Before an Earthquake
The best time to prepare for any disaster is before it happens.
- Secure items that are heavy or could fall easily to minimize damage (bookcases, refrigerators, televisions, and objects that hang on walls).
- Store heavy and breakable objects on low shelves.
- Create a family emergency communications plan that has an out-of-state contact. Plan where to meet if you get separated.
- Make a supply kit that includes enough food and water for at least three days, a flashlight, and a fire extinguisher. Consider each person’s specific needs, including medication.
- Have extra batteries and charging devices for phones and other critical equipment. Do not forget the needs of pets and service animals.
- Fires are one of the biggest risks after a quake. Be sure you know where your gas valve is and how to turn it off.
- Not all earthquake insurance is the same, so take the time to understand what a policy covers.
- California is the only state that mandates insurance companies offer earthquake coverage to people who buy residential policies. Purchasing it is voluntary. We recommend checking out a public-private program, the California Earthquake Authority, which offers policies with deductibles of 5% to 25%. But the actual coverage is underwritten by your individual insurance outfit. The premiums are based on the reconstruction value of your home, not the appraised value. No other state has a similar program.
Retrofit Your Home to Survive an Earthquake
If your home was built before 1974, it’s possible your home isn’t built to withstand earthquakes at all. The Uniform Building Code (now the International Building Code), which an international brain-trust of engineers updates every few years, is the basic construction blueprint enforced by many states and cities. The code first specified seismic design criteria in 1973.
Wood homes tend to fare better than concrete or brick because the wood has some natural flexibility. But even pre-1970s stick-built homes typically aren’t secured to the foundations.
The most common retrofits for making homes earthquake-ready are:
- Bolting the house to its foundation
- Reinforcing (bracing) cripple walls with plywood
- Bracing the hot water tank with metal strapping
- Bracing your chimney
- Installing auto-shutoff valves on the gas meter
There are programs and grants that might help you cover retrofit costs.
In California, the Earthquake Brace & Bolt program offers grants to qualifying homeowners based on a lottery system to help pay for retrofits.
Cities along the West Coast have some form of mandates or standards for retrofits. For example, Santa Monica, California, passed in 2017 the country’s most extensive retrofit plan to include concrete tilt-up, soft story, steel moment frame, non-ductile concrete, and unreinforced masonry. It’s more inclusive than the ordinance of its neighbor, Los Angeles.
What To Do During An Earthquake:
In most cases, an earthquake will surprise you with a jolt. There is essentially no time to do anything other than get to the best, closest place to survive. Things falling is the largest killer during an earthquake, which is why most of the advice we’ve shared below is about minimizing the risk of anything falling on you.
- Drop down to the ground on your hands and knees. A strong enough quake will knock you over anyway.
- Cover your head. Crawl underneath a sturdy desk or table for shelter. If no shelter is nearby, crawl next to an interior wall. Avoid windows.
- Hold on until the quake calms.
- Avoid elevators and windows if you’re in a high-rise.
- Avoid doorways. They don’t protect you from falling or flying objects. Modern doorways aren’t any more robust than the rest of a house.
- Get away from buildings, power lines, signs, traffic lights, and sinkholes.
- Once in an open area, get your body down low (to keep from being knocked down by strong shaking) and stay there until the shaking stops.
- Pullover and stop. Don’t park under trees, overpasses, or bridges if possible.
- Pull your parking brake, and wait for the shaking to stop.
- Proceed carefully, avoiding cracked pavement and debris.
- Stay inside if a power line falls on your car, and wait until utility or rescue personnel remove it. Don’t drive over downed power lines.
If you’re in bed:
- Don’t get up.
- Lie face down.
- Cover your head and neck with a pillow.
- Hold on to your head and neck with both hands until shaking stops.
Angelenos have a well-deserved reputation for being in denial. We build our homes on flood plains, on brushy mountainsides, in the path of mudslides, and near earthquake faults. Most of the time, most of us avoid catastrophe. But we should acknowledge that someday our luck could run out ‒ and consider whether it's worth taking precautions to protect against the unthinkable.
Want more information on how to protect your home and assets during an earthquake or fire? Contact our Team, we’d love to help you prepare!