In the 6.7 Northridge, CA, earthquake in 1994, 55 percent of quake-related injuries were due, not to collapsing buildings, but because of falling and breaking objects -- televisions, pictures, mirrors and heavy light fixtures.

While strengthening the structure of your home with seismic improvements is an important step to take to prepare your home for the Big One, preventing your possessions from becoming deadly projectiles is just as important.

The United States Geological Survey's "Putting Down Roots In Earthquake Country" says there's a 62 percent probability that a quake, magnitude 6.7 or greater, will hit the San Francisco Bay Area by 2032.

"When The Big One Strikes Again" a study released this week at the kick off of the three-day 100th Anniversary Earthquake Conference in San Francisco to recall the devastation of the 1906 quake and discuss measures necessary before the next Big One.

The study says from 40,000 to 62,000 casualties could result from such a trembler and more than half of those could be caused by seismic energy turning household goods into missiles.

Both "Putting Down Roots" and the Association of Bay Area Governments' "Home Quake Safety Toolkit" suggest -- along with a visit to a hardware store to secure earthquake-safety straps, fasteners and the like -- taking these steps to make living spaces inside your home safer during a quake:

  • Identify and secure large objects that could fall in a quake. Secure both top corners of tall, top-heavy desks, bookcases and entertainment centers to a wall stud -- not the drywall. Using flexible fasteners will allow the furniture to move independently, without tipping over. The flexibility reduces strain on the studs. Move heavy objects away from sleeping and sitting areas and clear exit paths of clutter.
  • Place only soft art above beds and sofas. Glass used for framed and other art can shatter. Consider using clear plastic or acrylic instead of glass for all hanging art. Even then, use closed hook hangers to hang objects and help prevent them from bouncing off the wall.
  • Use removable museum wax or earthquake putty or gel to secure knickknacks, gewgaws, collectibles, lamps, pottery and other objects stored on open shelves. Store heavier objects on lower shelves or inside display cases with quake or child-proof latches.
  • Likewise, secure kitchen cabinets holding glassware and china, especially overhead cabinets, to prevent items from falling out and breaking during a quake. Fasten down home electronics with flexible nylon straps and buckles.
  • In the garage or storage area, move flammables and hazardous materials to low, secure areas. Make sure items stored above or beside vehicles in the garage cannot fall and damage or block vehicles and escape routes.
  • Secure water and gas lines. Learn when and how to shut off water and gas lines. Have a plumber inspect pipelines and replace rusted and worn pipes. A plumber can also swap out rigid gas connections to water heaters, stoves, dryers and other gas appliances for more flexible connectors. Also consider installing excess-flow gas-shutoff valves to stop gas flows when a line springs a potentially deadly leak.
  • Secure heavy appliances. Law mandates that water heaters must be anchored to wall studs with metal straps and lag screws. Kits are readily available at hardware stores and home improvement centers. Likewise, secure refrigerators, free standing ranges, microwave ovens and other large, major appliances to walls using earthquake appliance straps.
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