This last July “The New Yorker” magazine included an article titled The Really Big One and subtitled “An earthquake will destroy a sizable portion of the coastal Northwest. The question is when.”
FEMA’s Region X (Oregon, Idaho, Alaska AND Washington) director Kenneth Murphy was quoted as saying, “Our operating assumption is that everything west of Interstate 5 will be toast.Ó
That started off an intense discussion. There were many conflicting views and some back peddling, but the upshot is that we will have a significant earthquake in the not too distant future and we need to prepare for it.
As architects, we are often asked by clients to design earthquake-proof facilities and to improve a building’s chance of sustaining a major movement of the earth. It goes unsaid that no structure can ever be 100 percent safe in the event of an earthquake, but there are many things that can be done to prevent unnecessary injuries and damage. Below, we have outlined a few tips for you, which will help to keep both you and your building intact when the next one hits.
During an earthquake, a building’s structural integrity is put to the ultimate test. Most new buildings and homes meet today’s earthquake safety requirements, but many older ones do not. The best method of securing an older building is to make sure it is bolted or fastened to its foundation. This is standard practice in construction nowadays and can prevent major damage. Most buildings, and especially older masonry building and anything over two stories, should be considered for a seismic review. Pillars, columns and even chimneys should be reinforced in the event of an earthquake. Just because your building or home survives intact, doesn’t mean it will in the future.
Thorough inspection is needed after any earthquake. Many buildings are like bike helmets; they are designed to keep you safe by taking the brunt of the force themselves. Even minor damage in one earthquake can lead to serious disaster in another.
Inside the building is where most personal injury occurs. The good thing is that most injuries can be avoided by careful planning and safety techniques. Water heaters, tall furniture, cabinets and large appliances should be secured with plumber’s tape and/or bolts. Even smaller objects, such as desk items and knick-knacks can be made safer by simply applying Quake Putty or another adhesive. Windows and glass should also be covered by sturdy blinds to prevent lacerations.
Should a major earthquake shake the greater Seattle area, preparing for the aftermath is just as important as getting ready to withstand the quake itself. Precautions such as storing water, purchasing a generator, and keeping food and medical supplies ready is essential as utilities may not be back online for days or weeks. All employees or family members need to know where gas, water and electrical shutoffs are. Fire extinguishers are a big help and are found in most buildings due to fire codes. Some knowledge of first aid can also come in handy. No matter how much you prepare, injuries still happen.
Earthquakes are a very real threat here in the Pacific Northwest. It is important to know the condition of your building and whether or not it is safe. Always stock survival supplies and know how to use them. Remember to stay calm and protect yourself during the earthquake by getting away from glass or tall objects and crouching under a desk or table if possible. Most of all — be prepared.