Protecting Your Property from an Earthquake

The local and national news has been abuzz in the past few weeks about “the Big One” in the Pacific Northwest, the earthquake that some say the area has been long “overdue” in experiencing.

First, the quick facts.

Yes, the Cascadia Subduction Zone, of the coast of the Pacific Northwest, has experienced past earthquakes, and will likely do so again. Numbers vary in terms of percentage chances of an earthquake, and the level of severity of the earthquake that may occur, but the general expectation is 1 in 3 of a large earthquake occurring in the Pacific Northwest in the next 50 years. Another way to look at it is a 1 in 300 chance, every year.  The last very large earthquake in the region occurred in 1700, and most have had a roughly 300 year interval.

The greatest damage from an earthquake will occur on the coast, both from the movement of the earth itself, and the resulting possible tsunamis, that could reach more than a few miles inland in low-lying areas. Tsunamis, while a potential threat along the ocean, are not an immediate issue for Portland. Portland’s challenges will arise from the earthquake movement itself.

But the most issues arise in the City of Roses and the surrounding metro area  from how little the area is prepared to deal with a seismic event in terms of infrastructure, building codes, and public awareness and preventative action.

What can YOU do?

Steps to earthquake proof your investment property can range from a few dollars to several thousand. But even if you can’t afford to bolt down your house to its foundation, even the smaller options are useful in protecting your property, and its tenants, in the event of an earthquake in Oregon. All of these steps are of course great ones for your own home, as well. So, where do you start?

The simplest steps are changes to the inside of your property. Safety latches on built in cabinets and doors will prevent large and heavy items from being ejected during an quake. Strapping down the hot water heater will prevent it from falling over or breaking the gas line as it goes, possibly igniting a fire and eliminating a source of drinkable water in the immediate aftermath, if the water supply is otherwise compromised. Hot water tank straps can be bought at large home improvement stores.

Buildings built before 1978 are especially vulnerable to earthquake damage, because they are rarely bolted down to the foundation and were built before seismic codes were adopted in 1980. The good news is that single family, wooden frame homes are flexible, and can ride out a quake better than masonry. This is one of the priciest but most effective strategies for maintaining the structure of your property during an earthquake. Seismic retrofit specialists can do the job, with prices going up to around $5,000 per home. If you are a DIY type, you can actually buy a kit and bolt your property down yourself, also from a  home improvement store.   Most insurance companies will not offer earthquake insurance unless your property is bolted onto the foundation.

These ideas are just a starting point. We invite you to peruse the links below to find out more about seismic retrofitting, lists of things you can do to protect your property, and what an earthquake scenario might look like where your particular property is located.

http://www.opb.org/news/series/unprepared/how-to-safely-turn-off-utilities-after-a-disaster/

http://www.angieslist.com/companylist/portland/earthquake-retrofit.htm

http://www.strongtie.com/literature/f-plans.html