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A recent earthquake hurled hundreds of thousands of library research books to the floor, underscoring the importance of securing household items to prevent them from becoming dangerous missiles during a big trembler.

Little damage and few injuries resulted from the 2007 Halloween Eve, magnitude 5.6 quake in Northern California, but seismic shockwaves from the epicenter nine miles to the east of San Jose, CA tossed 300,000 research books and publications to the floor in the city's main Martin Luther King Jr. Public Library.

No one was injured by the books which ended up virtually carpeting the top three floors of the eight-story, four-year old library. The library was constructed with the latest seismic building codes, which otherwise allowed the building to flex, move and survive unscathed, as designed.

While seismic building codes and retrofits can help secure the structure of a building in all but the greatest of earthquakes, a structure's contents need additional attention.

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.

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.

Another study, "When the Big One Strikes Again" 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.

The Association of Bay Area Governments' "Ways to Reduce Damage to and Injury from the Contents of Your Home" explains how to lessen the chance household objects will turn on you 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 also reduces strain on the studs. Move heavy objects away from sleeping and sitting areas and clear exit paths of clutter. Fasten down home electronics with flexible nylon straps and buckles.
  • 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 and counter tops. 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.
  • 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 with 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. Quake country 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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