Earthquake Safety and Resources

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Earthquakes can strike most anywhere at any time, and real-time scientific data shows they do. Further, statistics show the number of major earthquakes worldwide has increased during the past decade.

In 2017 alone, devastating earthquakes struck in Iran, Mexico, Italy, China and many other areas, resulting in deaths, injuries and property damage.

In the United States, Alaska and California have the most earthquakes annually, many of them small enough they aren’t felt. But larger ones can, and do, happen anywhere, including the Midwest and along the East Coast.

No matter the location, it’s clear casualties and property damage are mitigated when people are prepared, and homes and other structures are built to the latest codes,

Communities and homes not ready for earthquakes can suffer loss of life and major infrastructure damage. Resulting fires can damage power and gas lines, and fighting fires can be disrupted if water lines are broken.

The International Codes (I-Codes) proscribe designing structures to be earthquake resistant and resilient in design and construction. More stringent codes are recommended for areas where earthquakes occur more often, as well as for buildings that need to be operational immediately following a disaster, such as police and fire stations and hospitals.

If an earthquake occurs in a populated area, it may cause deaths, injuries and extensive property damage. Here are some helpful tips to prepare your family and protect your home:

  • Plan and hold earthquake drills for your family. To learn more about planned earthquake drills in your area, visit the Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drills website.
  • Identify two ways to escape from every room in the home.
  • Keep a flashlight and sturdy shoes by each person’s bed.
  • Select a safe location away from the home where your family can meet after evacuating.
  • Have an earthquake kit containing enough water, food, medicines and other necessities for at least three days.
  • Hire an inspector to make sure your home is securely anchored to its foundation.
  • Strap water heaters, appliances and TVs to wall studs.
  • Anchor bookshelves, heavy furniture, appliances and televisions to wall studs.
  • Secure pictures, mirrors and ornaments to the wall with appropriate fasteners.
  • Know where and how to shut off electricity, gas and water services.

Additional resources

Earthquake safety tips from FLASH

Prepare your home for earthquakes

When should I evacuate?  

Reconnect and recover                      

Earthquake Preparedness Guide: For People with Disabilities and Others with Access and Functional Needs                     

What NOT to do during an earthquake

Emergency evacuation kits  

Earthquake safety video series

Earthquake safety tips from the American Red Cross  

Protecting your home from earthquakes

FEMA Earthquake Resource

Tornado Safety and Recovery

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Tornado Safety and Recovery

In the spring, people often begin thinking about their gardens. They also should consider whether their homes and businesses have strong roots as tornado season begins.

An average of 1,000 tornadoes a year hit the United States, with many occurring in various “Tornado Alleys,” such as the Plains states, including Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Kansas.

While no structure can be 100 percent tornado-proof, it’s critical, especially in tornado-prone areas, to make sure homes and businesses can withstand as much wind as possible. You also want these structures to be resilient, meaning they are able to return to functionality fairly quickly after the event.

A properly built, high-wind-resistant safe room protects your family from the most intense tornadoes and hurricanes and can be incorporated into a planned build or renovation to create a multiuse space in your home, adding to its value. The Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH) urges homeowners to “Give an Ordinary Room an Extraordinary Purpose” by building or retrofitting interior spaces in their home to safe room standards.

Safe rooms:

  • are designed to withstand winds up to 250 miles, and offer lifesaving refuge for families in the path of high-wind events like tornadoes.
  • are designed to meet standards set forth by the National Storm Shelter Association, the International Code Council and FEMA, and will stand up to the most intense tornadoes and hurricanes.
  • can be located anywhere on the first floor of your home, in a basement or outside. A safe room can double as a closet, bathroom, laundry or even an outdoor room like a garden shed or pool house.

Being prepared goes a long way toward keeping you and your loved ones safe during the storm.

 

Here are some helpful tips from the International Code to make sure you are tornado ready.

At the beginning of tornado season in your area:

  • Make sure your family has a plan to congregate in a safe place during a storm.
  • Warn your children about finding a safe place away from home.
  • Store flashlights and extra batteries.
  • Clean storm gutters and drains.
  • Prepare your home for high winds and rain.
  • Repair/replace storm shutters.
  • Check your property insurance policy for appropriate coverage.

Before the storm:

  • Bring in outdoor objects such as lawn furniture, toys, and garden tools. Anchor objects that cannot be brought inside.
  • Check/replace emergency supplies and store bottled drinking water.
  • Review family emergency plans.
  • Keep a supply of flashlights and extra batteries handy.
  • Secure your home by unplugging appliances and turning off electricity and the main water valve.

During the storm:

  • Stay inside in a secure place, away from windows, skylights, and glass doors. Listen to a crank- or battery-operated radio for storm progress reports. DO NOT GO OUTSIDE.
  • Stay away from electrical equipment and piping that can conduct electricity from lightning.
  • Keep a supply of flashlights and extra batteries handy.
  • Avoid flooded roads, and watch for washed-out bridges.

After the storm:

  • Listen for the all-clear from a community siren, or from local radio. Make sure everyone is okay; get emergency help, as needed.
  • Be careful as you assess the damage in your home, watching for live wires, broken glass, nails and other debris
  • Take pictures of any damage to the house and its contents for insurance claims.
  • Check the exterior. Avoid loose or dangling power lines and report them immediately to the power company, police or fire department. The same goes for gas lines.
  • Let your insurance company know of any damage. Work only with accredited companies on any repairs. If you suspect a scam, report it to authorities.

More Information

Preparing for Tornados and High Winds by Simpson Strong-Tie

Additional Guidance from FEMA
Safe Room Testimonial Video
Video: Putting Fortified Construction to the Test
Protect Your Property from High Winds Fact Sheets
FEMA Safe Room Resources
Safe Rooms for Tornadoes and Hurricanes: Guidance for Community and Residential Safe Rooms FEMA P-361
Taking Shelter from the Storm: Building a Safe Room for your Home or Small Business FEMA P-320
Wind Retrofit Guide for Residential Buildings FEMA P-804
Building Science for Disaster-Resistant Communities: Wind Hazard Publications (brochure)

Winter Safety Resources

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Winter Safety Resources

When the weather's cold, some of us look forward to winter activities, while others look forward to just huddling in front of a fireplace with a mug of hot chocolate.

But a gentle reminder is in order: Each season has its dangers, and winter is no different. For example, The Centers for Disease Control says thousands die each year from exposure to extreme cold, or from carbon monoxide poisoning due to faulty heating units, which also can cause fires in homes if not used properly.

Another example: Deadly fires also can result when homeowners use torches to thaw frozen pipes. The American Red Cross offers tips to prevent pipes from freezing and what to do if it happens.

The following list offers preparations you can make at home and when traveling to make sure you have a fun and safe winter.

Your Winter Toolkit

Red Cross: Winter Storm Safety

Red Cross: Your Family Disaster Supplies Kit

Federal Alliance for Safe Homes: Winter Freeze Flash Card

Generator Safety Tips from NFPA

USDA Agricultural Research Service:  The Cold Stress Guide

FEMA Fact Sheet on Winter Storms

FEMA Snow Load Safety Guidance

FEMA Snow Study Summary Report

CDC: Extreme Cold- Prevention Guide

NOAA: Winter Storms- the Deceptive Killers: A Preparedness Guide

University of Wisconsin-Extension: Winter Storm Preparedness and Response

Congressional Hazards Caucus Fact Sheet: Winter Storms

FEMA Emergency Supply List

FEMA Family Emergency Plan

Winter Tips for People with Disabilities and Special Needs

Winter Tips for Older Americans

Preparing Your Pets for Emergencies Makes Sense

Snow Shoveling Safety Tips

Winter Storm Preparedness and Response: Safety At Home and While Traveling

How to Winterize Your Manufactured Home

How to Care for Ice-Damaged Trees

North Dakota State University: Heat Safely with Alternative Fuel Heating Systems

Solve Winter Home Moisture Problems

Check Sewer Vents for Ice Accumulations

Preventing Roof Collapses from Snow and Ice on Agricultural Buildings

Protecting Trees and Shrubs against Winter Damage

Better Business Bureau: Hiring a Snow Removal Contractor

Three-Day Emergency Food Supply

Preparing Food During a Power Failure

Safety of Refrigerated Foods After a Power Outage

AARP: 5 Hidden Health Dangers of winter

Prevent Damage from Frozen Pipes

Cold Weather Pet Safety

Electric Portable Space Heater Safety

Cold Weather and Cardiovascular Disease

News articles

WashPo: Chicago faces one of its coldest days on record as the Midwest plunges into deep freeze

NBC's Jeff Rossen Reports update: How to avoid bursting pipes and costly repairs this winter

NBC's Jeff Rossen Reports: Winter hacks to protect your home from snow and ice

Deadly NYC fire started by 3-year-old playing with stove, official says

NBC’s Today Show: Rossen Reports Update-- How to use a space heater safely

Health Officials: House Fires More Likely During the Holidays

Red Cross Offers Home Heating Safety Tips

House Works: Winter Prep for Snowbirds; Ice Dams

Codes Save Lives

Inspector discovers carbon monoxide leak, saves children

When Johnny Vollendroff arrived at the rental property that day in 1996, he thought he was checking out a simple code complaint. Little did he know how important that visit would be. While the man of the house showed him around the place, John noted multiple code violations. The electric panel was incorrectly placed and missing its door. The lighting consisted of a single loop of exposed wiring hanging from the ceiling. The toilet was leaking through the bathroom wall into a kitchen cabinet, where a variety of molds grew. The windows were all single pane plastic. But, upon entering the living room, he saw the scariest thing. A gas fired heater sat in the spot where a wood stove must have been. The flue in the wall was open. The stove was exhausting directly in to the room. Beside it was a 50-gallon propane tank.

Johnny noticed that as they walked around the house, the gentleman had coughed frequently. Johnny now turned and asked him about his cold. The man replied that he wasn’t nearly as sick as his wife and kids. The family had all gotten the flu a few weeks before and it just wouldn’t go away. He described the symptoms, including blood shot eyes and a runny nose. Johnny explained to the man that these were all signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. They bundled the family into the gentleman’s car and drove to the health department.

The attending doctor later described the children as having the worst cases of carbon monoxide poisoning he had ever seen that had not resulted in death. That unconnected flue in the wall may have let enough fresh air into the living room to keep them alive. However, they would not have lasted much longer. The family moved out of the rental house immediately and Johnny condemned the property. He knew that his efforts had saved those children’s lives.

Story submitted by
Johnny Lee Vollendroff
Building Inspector/Code Official
California

Codes Save Lives

Code compliance saves business

The Allen County, Indiana, Building Department was recently contacted by a local fire department following a commercial business fire to evaluate the need for an emergency demolition order for the portion of the building that remained standing. In my capacity as Building Commissioner, I responded to the call and met with fire officials and the owner of the business.

Although the investigation into the cause of the fire had not been completed, preliminary review pointed to arson. As we discussed how to handle the remainder of the building and the substantial amount of debris, the owner commented that he now understood the benefits of fire and building codes. He noted that the portion of the building that was still standing, containing the administrative offices, had recently been remodeled and that the contractor had been required to add fire separation walls between the office area and the warehouse. This had increased the cost for the work but, as the owner now acknowledged, turned out to be worth every penny.

While there had been some damage to the offices, all of the company’s paper files and computer records were able to be salvaged. In fact, less than eight hours after the fire was reported the owner and his crews were in the process of moving the material to another building in preparation for the resumption of business activities. While losing his facility was a hardship, the owner still had an operating business because the building and fire safety codes had been followed.

The fire occurred at 3 a.m. so the building was empty and there were no injuries or deaths, but the codes also protect in other ways. In this case, a business was able to recover critical records and continue operations with minimal downtime.

Story submitted by
David O. Fuller, C.B.O.
Building Commissioner
Building Department
Allen County, IN

Surviving a Wildfire

More and more Americans are spending time in remote areas and building their homes in wildland settings, rural areas or remote mountain sites. Such homeowners enjoy the beauty of the environment yet face the very real danger of wildfire.

But wildfires don’t have to result in tragedy if homeowners follow some basic safety tips.

Plan ahead and survive

  • Families and residents should have a plan for wildfire emergencies that threaten homes, including where to go when escaping a fire and what to bring with you.
  • Get together with your family and make a list that includes who is responsible for bringing which family pets with them.
  • Learn about the history of wildfire in your area. Be aware of recent weather. A long period without rain increases the risk of wildfire.
  • Consider having a professional inspect your property and offer recommendations for reducing the wildfire risk. Determine your community’s ability to respond to wildfire. Are roads leading to your property clearly marked? Are the roads wide enough to allow firefighting equipment to get through? Is your house number visible from the roadside?

Learn, teach safe fire practices

  • Build fires away from nearby trees or bushes.
  • Always have a way to extinguish the fire quickly and completely.
  • Install smoke detectors on every level of your home and near sleeping areas.
  • Never leave a fire — even a cigarette — burning unattended.
  • Avoid open burning completely, and especially during dry season.

Always be ready for an emergency evacuation

  • Evacuation may be the only way to protect your family in a wildfire. Know where to go and what to bring with you. You should plan several escape routes in case roads are blocked by a wildfire.

Take steps to protect your home

The key to protecting a home from wildfires is to create a survivable and defensible space. That’s number one. It’s going to increase your chance of surviving a wildfire. Keep your survivable and defensible space "lean, clean and green.” Vegetation should be sparse and free of dead branches and debris. Trees should be “limbed” up well off the ground and grass and other plants should be well-watered.

  • All vegetation is fuel for a wildfire, though some trees and shrubs are more flammable than others. To reduce the risk, you will need to modify or eliminate brush, trees and other vegetation near your home. The greater the distance is between your home and the vegetation, the greater the protection.

You’ll want a 30-foot safety zone around the house.

  • Keep the volume of vegetation in this zone to a minimum. If you live on a hill, extend the zone on the downhill side. Fire spreads rapidly uphill. The steeper the slope, the more open space you will need to protect your home. Swimming pools and patios can be a safety zone and stone walls can act as heat shields and deflect flames. In this zone, you should also do the following:
    • Remove vines from the walls of the house.
    • Move shrubs and other landscaping away from the sides of the house.
    • Prune branches and shrubs within 15 feet of chimneys and stove pipes.
    • Remove tree limbs within 15 feet of the ground.
    • Thin a 15-foot space between tree crowns.
    • Replace highly flammable vegetation such as pine, eucalyptus, junipers and fir trees with lower growing, less flammable species. Check with your local fire department or garden store for suggestions.
    • Replace vegetation that has living or dead branches from the ground-level up (these act as ladder fuels for the approaching fire).
    • Cut the lawn often, keeping the grass at a maximum of 2 inches. Watch grass and other vegetation near the driveway, a source of ignition from automobile exhaust systems.
    • Clear the area of leaves, brush, evergreen cones, dead limbs and fallen trees.

You’ll also want to create a second zone at least 100 feet around the house.

  • In this zone, reduce or replace as much of the most flammable vegetation as possible. If you live on a hill, you may need to extend the zone for several hundred feet to provide the desired level of safety.

Other precautions

  • Install electrical lines underground, if possible.
  • Ask the power company to clear branches from power lines.
  • Avoid using bark and wood chip mulch.
  • Stack firewood 100 feet away and uphill from any structure.
  • Store combustible or flammable materials in approved safety containers and keep them away from the house.
  • Keep the gas grill and propane tank at a distance from any structure. Clear an area 15 feet around the grill. Place a 1/4-inch mesh screen over the grill. Always use the grill cautiously but refrain from using it during high-risk times.

Control debris, combustibles

  • Any porch, balcony or overhang with exposed space underneath is fuel for an approaching fire. Overhangs ignite easily by flying embers and by the heat and fire that get trapped underneath.
  • If vegetation is allowed to grow underneath or if the space is used for storage, the hazard is increased significantly.
  • Clear leaves, trash and other combustible materials away from underneath sun decks and porches. Enclose wooden stilts with non-combustible material such as concrete, brick, rock, stucco or metal. Use non-combustible patio furniture and covers.
  • Like porches and balconies, eaves trap the heat rising along the exterior siding. Enclose all eaves to reduce the hazard.
  • Chimneys create a hazard when embers escape through the top. To prevent this, install spark arrestors on chimneys, stovepipes and vents for fuel-burning heaters. If you’re building a chimney, make sure the top of the chimney is at least two feet higher than any obstruction within 10 feet of the chimney.

Other safety measures

  • Choose residential locations wisely; canyon and slope locations increase the risk of exposure to wildland fires.
  • Use fire-resistant materials when building, renovating, or retrofitting structures.
  • Use non-combustible materials for the roof.
  • The roof is especially vulnerable in a wildfire. Embers and flaming debris can travel great distances, land on your roof and start a new fire. Avoid flammable roofing materials such as wood, shake and shingle. Materials that are more fire resistant include single ply membranes, fiberglass shingles, slate, metal, clay and concrete tile. Clear gutters of leaves and debris.

If you are trapped at home

  • As the fire front approaches, stay inside the house. In most cases, the fire will pass before your house burns down.

If you are caught by a wildfire in the open

  • The rule of thumb is to find a spot where there is less fuel for the fire, get low and cover yourself until the fire passes. Carry a first aid kit and have an emergency plan for outdoor activities.