As millions were reminded Tuesday, earthquakes can strike Southern California without warning. This could be an opportunity to make your house safer before the next damaging quake. If your house needs major work, such as bolting the frame to the foundation, it will probably require the services of professionals, but here are some things you can do yourself with a few hand tools and some elbow grease. Securing objects in and around the house will help limit property damage and reduce the risk of injury to you and your family.
Make sure heavy mirrors, pictures and wall hangings are anchored in studs, not just the wall. If possible, remove such items and substitute something lighter, particularly above beds.
2. In the attic
If your home has a chimney, nail plywood to the ceiling joists around the chimney to help protect from falling bricks.
3. Hanging lights, plants
Anchor lights, plants and other hanging objects in wood beams rather than simply through plaster or ceiling panels. Close hooks by bending them shut with pliers or wrapping them with wire.
4. Bookshelves, wall units
A. L-shaped braces screwed into studs can be used to attach shelving, cabinets and tall dressers to walls.
B. Guardrails across the front help keep books and other objects from sliding off shelves. Rails can be of wire or decorative metal. Creating a lip on shelf edges with wood trim also helps keep things in place.
C. Remove heavy objects from top.
5. Gas appliances
If the tubing that carries gas to your appliances is rigid, consider replacing it with approved corrugated metal connectors, which are not as likely to break with severe shaking.
6. Kitchen, dining room
A. Install latches on cupboards and cabinets. Plastic latches sold for child-proofing are an inexpensive, easy-to-install option that does not change the appearance of cabinets.
B. In china cabinets, small pieces of adhesive or putty can help keep collectibles in place.
C. Restrain large appliances such as refrigerators with straps or hooks, remembering that a degree of flexibility provides more stress resistance.
7. A gas leak primer
A. Know where your gas meter is. It could be at the side of the house, under the house, in a crawl space, in a cellar or basement or near the garage or porch.
B. Locate the shut-off valve and make sure you can reach it.
C. Have an adjustable wrench available for turning off the valve. Special gas shut-off wrenches can be tied with wire to the meter for ready access.
D. Consider installing an automatic shut-off valve.
Sources: Southern California Earthquake Preparedness Project, Governor's Office of Emergency Services, Los Angeles and Orange County fire departments, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Lafferty & Associates Inc.