I want to increase my/our chance of surviving an earthquake—what should I do?
- Evaluate your building. Quality of construction is your biggest risk factor. Most importantly, evaluate (or have evaluated) buildings you live in, work in, or frequently enter to determine if they have serious earthquake safety concerns. If you own or occupy a building that may be unreinforced masonry (brick, block, stone, etc.), commonly called a URM, you may want to have it evaluated for earthquake durability by a structural engineer or builder trained specifically in earthquake construction methods. If the evaluation indicates that it has high risk of failure in an earthquake, it may be possible to retrofit the building to make it safer, or it could be replaced. Yes, we know that it will be expensive, but how much are the lives of your loved ones worth?
- Before you buy or rent. Recognize that BEFORE you buy or rent is the best time to evaluate a building for earthquake safety. If you are considering buying, renting, or occupying a building, we encourage you to investigate whether the building is a URM or has other high earthquake-risk factors.
- Plan to sell an older building? If you are planning to sell a house or other building built or permitted before about 1980 that has evidence of brick, block, stone, or other masonry construction, and if you have not retrofitted it following plans approved by a trained and licensed builder, architect, or structural engineer, please inform potential buyers that there is a possibility that your building is unreinforced masonry and may not be safe in a major earthquake.
- Wood- or steel-frame construction. Is the structural framework of your building wood or steel? If it is, congratulations—you are one step closer to earthquake safety for your family. But, even wood- and steel-frame buildings can have design flaws such as improper anchoring of floors to foundations and roofs to walls, tall brick or stone chimneys, improperly secured brick or stone facings, “soft stories,” and many other flaws. All buildings should be evaluated for earthquake safety.
- Falling objects. Search your building for potential falling objects. Poorly anchored, secured, or attached wall decorations, mirrors, chandeliers, book cases, high shelves, electronics, heavy objects, water heaters, and many other items can crush and kill in an earthquake. Anchor or remove any objects that might fall and cause injuries or block passageways. Heavy curtains or blinds can help prevent broken glass from falling on beds, chairs, passageways, or people.
- Water heaters and appliances. Make sure all appliances, especially tall ones like water heaters, are properly anchored and have flexible hose connections so they don’t tip over and cause fires.
- How to shut off gas. Know how to shut off your gas line. (Note: After an earthquake, only shut off the gas line if you actually smell gas, see flames or smoke, or otherwise suspect a broken gas line or fire—you may not get it turned back on for several days.)
- Other dangers. Check for other dangers unique to your situation. For example, a large pile of bedding or toys above a crib could smother or injure a baby; tipped-over chemicals or fuel cans could start a fire; wood slats screwed onto your food-storage shelves may save your food supply when you need it most; etc. Look around—and think.
- Evaluate other risks. Evaluate all aspects of your earthquake safety situation and develop a plan to address high-risk concerns. These resources have many additional suggestions.
- Emergency plan. Make an emergency plan with your family. Identify the safest spots in your home. Rehearse various earthquake scenarios. Teach children what to do in all types of emergency situations. See BeReady.utah.gov for additional help on emergency plans.
- Accessible emergency supplies. Store emergency food, water, warm clothing and shoes, medical supplies, medicines, and other essential items in a location that is likely to be accessible after a severe earthquake. Consider a shed, camp trailer, or car trunk as alternatives to a poorly constructed house or garage that might suffer severe damage.
- FIX YOUR BRICKS! We have to repeat—quality of construction of the building you occupy is probably your highest risk factor. If you occupy a URM, we encourage you to deal with this risk without delay. Many Utahns think that preparing an emergency kit is the best way to prepare for an earthquake. We certainly encourage you to prepare a kit, but we ask you—what good is an emergency kit that is lying under a pile of bricks along side your body? In most cases, your brick (or block) problem is your highest risk factor. These published resources will help you get started.
- Act now. Act now to protect yourself and your family! It may not be easy or inexpensive, but is your family’s safety worth it?
The Good News!
- You can take steps to greatly decrease the risk to you and your family.
- The best time to make earthquake safety decisions is before you buy or rent a home or apartment and before you select a business or school.
- If you already own the building, now is the time to make earthquake safety improvements.
- If constructed and maintained properly following existing earthquake building codes, most buildings should perform well in an earthquake (but any building should be evaluated by a trained professional).
- If everyone acts now and if the “killer” earthquake will hold off for a few years, we can replace or retrofit many URMs, greatly reducing deaths and injuries.
The Bad News!
- Earthquakes cannot be predicted. Waiting to act until the fault “starts to wake up” doesn’t work; Utah’s active faults are already “awake” and could produce a killer earthquake at any time.
- Most URMs are predicted to perform very poorly in the next killer earthquake.
- We’re not going to lie—retrofitting or replacing URMs can be expensive, but it is what needs to be done to save lives.