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Preparing for the big one: How to earthquake-proof your home

We've said it time and time again, but that's because experts say it's only a matter of time before a big earthquake hits right here in the Pacific Northwest.
A chimney is braced onto a Portland home.

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Experts have said it time and time again: It's only a matter of time before a big earthquake hits the Pacific Northwest.

VIDEO: Watch KGW Report

You never know the moment an earthquake will hit, but the experts say if one hits when you're in downtown Portland, you should walk away from old buildings, especially the ones with old ornamental stone work.

Also, try to avoid areas where power lines could fall. Usually that's in the middle of the street.

Jocelyn Pabst, a Southeast Portland resident, admits her home is probably not ready for an earthquake.

"I don't think it is. It's from the 1940s. I doubt that it has much as far as safety features," said Pabst. "You always think it can't happen to you and then suddenly it does. I don't think we're quite prepared for it."

Dr. Robert Butler, Ph.D., a professor of Geophysics at the University of Portland, decided to earthquake-proof his home a few years ago.

"Earthquakes don't kill people. Buildings that collapse from earthquake ground-shaking kill people," said Butler.

He went all out protecting his home.

"The frame can slide off of the foundation, so that's a big brace that hooks that bottom of the foundation to the concrete," said Dr. Butler as he pointed to a brace in his basement.

His North Portland home was also built in the 1940s - back when making homes safer from earthquakes wasn't a concern.

"So (the builders) were thinking, 'The only thing we need to worry about here is gravity.' That's fine and dandy as long as that's the case," he said.

But Butler said that's not the case. An earthquake is coming.

So, the posts in his house are anchored to the floor and beams are bolted to the foundation.

His brick chimney is braced onto his house.

Heavy and large furniture is attached to the wall, and pictures won't budge because museum putty is holding them in place.

He said not to put pictures or glass above your bed and not to sleep directly below a window or skylight.

Butler suggested keeping a pair of sturdy shoes and a flashlight under your bed in case the power goes out and there's broken glass all over your floor.

"It's insurance that you pay for once. Yes, it can be expensive. It's cost me a few thousand dollars to do this retrofitting," said Butler.

But he says it's worth the cost to protect his family.

Earthquake safety tips

Have enough food and water for at least 72 hours.

Also, collect together your medications, some blankets and a portable radio.

Look Up

  • Support ceiling fans and light pendants with the use of bracing wire secured to a screw eye embedded at least an inch into the ceiling joist.
  • Brace masonry chimneys back to the roof joists or reinforce roof sheathing to protect the home from falling masonry.

Look Around

  • Anchor the tops of bookcases, file cabinets and entertainment centers to one or more studs with flexible fasteners to prevent tipping.
  • Secure loose shelving by screwing into the cabinet or with museum putty placed at each corner bracket.
  • Secure china, collectibles, trophies and other shelf items with museum putty.
  • Install a lip or blocking device to prevent books or other articles from falling off shelves.
  • Secure televisions, computers and stereos with buckles and safety straps that also allow easy removal and relocation.
  • Install latches on cabinet doors to prevent them from opening and spilling out their contents.
  • Hang mirrors, pictures and plants using closed hooks to prevent items from falling.
  • Cover windows with approved shatter-resistant safety film to protect against broken glass.

Look Down

  • Ensure appliances have flexible gas or electrical connections.
  • Strap the top and bottom of a water heater using heavy-gauge metal strapping secured to wall studs.
  • Locate your gas shutoff valve and ensure you know how to turn off the gas supply to your home with the use of a suitable wrench.
  • Relocate flammable liquids to a garage or outside storage location.

Learn more home, business, and family safety tips here.