Nonstructural Hazards & Solutions

Do not underestimate the importance of reducing nonstructural hazards. Unsecured building contents such as toppling bookcases injure and kill during earthquakes. Billions of dollars are also lost due to this type of damage. Much of this could be prevented by taking simple, inexpensive steps ahead of time. More and more hardware stores and home centers carry earthquake safety straps, fasteners, and adhesives for home hazard reduction projects.

Look for potential hazards throughout your living and storage spaces. A good rule to follow is to secure or relocate items that are:
  • Heavy enough to cause injury if it falls on you
  • Fragile and/or expensive enough to be a significant loss if it falls
Living Areas
  • Move heavy objects to lower shelves.
  • Use latches to secure kitchen cabinets and drawers. Child-proof latches, hook and eye latches, or positive catch latches designed for boats can also work for quake-proofing.
  • Store breakable items such as bottled foods, glass, and china in low or closed cabinets with latches.
  • Secure refrigerators and other major appliances to walls using earthquake appliance straps.
  • Fasten shelves securely to walls. Movable shelf inserts can also be secured by applying earthquake putty on each corner bracket.
  • Keep tall, heavy items such as bookcases away from beds and couches and sitting or sleeping areas. Heavy pictures, mirrors, etc, should not be hung over places where people sit or sleep.
  • For tabletop or display items on shelves, use either hook and loop fasteners on the table and object, or non-damaging adhesives such as earthquake putty, clear quake gel, or microcrystalline wax to secure breakables in place.
  • Mirrors, framed pictures, and other objects should be hung from closed hooks so that they can't bounce off the walls. Pictures and mirrors can also be secured at their corners with earthquake putty. Only soft art such as tapestries should be placed over beds or sofas.
  • Televisions, stereos, computers, microwaves and other heavy and costly to replace electronics can be secured with flexible nylon straps and buckles for easy removal and relocation.
  • Secure the tops of all top-heavy furniture, such as bookcases and file cabinets, to a wall. Be sure to anchor to the stud, and not just to the drywall. Flexible fasteners such as nylon straps allow tall objects to sway without falling over, reducing the strain on the studs.
  • Move flammable or hazardous materials to lower shelves or the floor.
Basements, Garages & Storage Spaces
  • Have a plumber install flexible (corrugated) copper water connectors, if not already done.
  • Store hazardous or flammable materials (cleansers, solvents, weed killers, pesticides, etc.) securely in sealed containers, on bottom shelves inside closed cabinets with latches.
  • Keep an adjustable wrench near the gas shut-off valve, or attach it in an easily accessible location. Show everyone in your household where it is and how to use it.
  • Automatic gas shut-off valves are also available. They must be installed by a qualified plumber. It senses an earthquake of magnitude 5.3 or greater. The drawback to such valves is they also may shut off when a heavy truck passes. The advantage is that a potential fire hazard can be eliminated, even if no one is at home when a quake occurs.
  • Brace overhead light fixtures.
  • Repair defective electrical wiring and leaky gas connections. These are potential fire risks.
  • Secure a water heater with straps that are bolted to wall studs or masonry. Unsecured water heaters often fall over, rupturing rigid water and gas connections, leading to additional damage and risk of fire.
  • Install flexible connectors on gas appliances to reduce the risk of fire.
View additional information, including how-to instructions, at the Earthquake County Alliance website.