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How to Tell if your Home Will Survive a Disaster

Kamee Collins | MAY 23, 2018

Is your home safe enough to survive an earthquake?

According to research by Robert Yeats of Oregon State University, there is a two out of three chance that you will be at home when the next big earthquake strikes. But, many older homes along the West Coast may not be strong enough to withstand the next big quake that scientists say is on its way.

Keep your home, and your family, safe by learning the signs of an unsafe structure-- and what you can do about it.

In this post, we will walk you through the signs of an unstable structure, the risk factors of an unsafe building in earthquake country, and the steps you can take to reinforce your home.

The Real Danger of An Apartment Collapse

Between 1971 and 1994, 65 people died when concrete buildings and soft-story wood structures collapsed.

That sort of destruction could happen again, if older complexes are not properly retrofitted. These space-saving designs, which typically feature weak first floors used as parking spots, became popular as the population of Los Angeles increased.

Called soft-story structures, these buildings are the most susceptible to earthquake damage. At least 13,500 buildings in Los Angeles and 6,744 buildings in San Francisco that have been identified as soft-story structures. The majority of those buildings are residential, apartment complexes and condos.

How to Tell If Your Structure is Safe

Most earthquake-related deaths are caused by collapsing walls, flying glass, and falling objects within a structure.

The first step you can take is to assess the health of your home. The Association of Bay Area Governments created this home health quiz to determine which buildings may need retrofitting.

If you think your home might be a soft-story structure, visit this link to learn more about what steps you can take as a property owner to retrofit your buildings.

If your home isn’t a soft-story structure, but you’re still concerned about potential dangers, FEMA created a useful graphic and a safety checklist to help you assess your home.

What if your home is on the list? You can talk to the property owner about the steps they have taken to retrofit the property. Educate yourself on the requirements for soft-story structure updates in your area.

All of these properties are required by the state of California to make the necessary changes by September 15th, 2018. Property owners who fail to do so will face strict penalties and fines. This is good news for apartment dwellers, because it increases the likelihood that your home will be properly updated by the end of the year.

Not every unsafe building is on those lists, though. If you’re a homeowner, you may not have a soft-story structure, but your house may still have many unsafe features.

These dangers include:

  • masonry chimneys
  • poorly reinforced windows and crawlspaces
  • weak roofs
  • cracked foundations
  • unbraced posts or beams
  • unreinforced brick

Contact a contractor if you encounter any of these signs. It could mean the difference between life and death.

It’s What’s Inside That Counts

Keeping an eye on dangers inside your home is just as important. A safe structure means nothing if you haven’t reinforced the items within. Your family could just as easily be injured by a falling object as they are by broken glass.

Look out for:

  • Heavy objects above beds and sofas
  • Unsecured televisions
  • Heavy furniture that is not strapped or latched to walls
  • Appliances without flexible connectors
  • Unsecured cabinets

What Can You Do to Ensure the Survival of Your Family, and Your Home?

There are three steps you can do right now to keep your family safe.

    1. Check the list to see if your home is a soft-story structure that requires major retrofitting.
    2. Inspect your home and correct any problem areas.
    3. Get your  earthquake bag packed ready to roll.