I was walking toward the parking lot to hop in my car for an appointment. Suddenly, the cars in the lot started pitching forward and backward three feet in each direction. The ground was moving. I started running, until I realized I didn’t know where I was running to. It was a good thing that I did run, though: chunks of the façade of the building I had been walking by fell several stories to the ground. It was 5:04 PM, October 17, 1989, in San Francisco.
If you’ve never been through a major earthquake, it can be hard to imagine their power and impact. You might see images of grocery stores with the contents of the shelves on the floor. You may have the impression that they gradually vibrated off the shelves. That’s not what happens. Things that are not fixed in place go flying. During the 1992 Northridge earthquake in Los Angeles, friends of mine saw their television – not a flat screen monitor but one of the heavy, bulky old-school types – fly from one side of the room to the other. To minimize injuries in an earthquake, you need to anchor and secure everything heavy or breakable that could tip over or go flying. Fortunately, there are several tools on the market for doing this.
Think first about your furniture. Bookcases, cabinets, highboys, and shelving units can tip over, spilling their contents and injuring anyone in their path. Quakehold sells straps and hardware designed to hold tall furniture in place. Simple hardware like corner brackets can also do the job. Just be sure that you are anchoring into a stud, so that a falling bookcase doesn’t just tear out of the wall.
Once a bookcase is anchored to the wall, make sure that the shelves are anchored to the bookcase. Adjustable-height shelves often just rest on their brackets. When things start shaking, both the shelves and their contents will come flying out. You can use a small corner bracket to hold the shelf in place. Driving a long screw through the bookcase into the shelf will also work.
Next, look at your appliances and electronics. Refrigerators are usually on wheels. They can roll at great speed during an earthquake. Quakehold has straps specifically designed for refrigerators and other appliances, as well as for heavy electronics like monitors and desktop printers. If you have furnishings on casters or wheels, use any locking mechanisms they have. Turn the wheels perpendicular to each other. Use simple rubber triangular doorstops to chock them in place.
Next, let’s keep your cabinet contents inside the cabinets. There are many styles of earthquake latches. Child safety latches do the same job. Even a simple hook-and-eye latch will work in many cases. Just make sure you have the right type of latch for the design of your cabinets. Based on personal experience, unless you are a skilled DIYer, I recommend outsourcing this project to a handyman. There’s nothing like buying latches, starting to install them and realizing you have the wrong type, going back to the store to get the right kind, spending much more time than you expected getting the two pieces of the latch to align correctly, finally feeling victorious, and then turning around to realize you have seven more cabinets in the room.
Now let’s look at the items you have on all of those shelves, bookcases, mantels, and any other surfaces above about 4 feet. Arrange items so that the heaviest things are on the lowest shelves and the lightest ones on the top shelves. This will both stabilize the bookcase or shelving unit and reduce the risk of injury when objects start flying. If you have breakable or sharp decorative items on higher shelves, use museum wax to secure them in place. Store only the very lightest items on top of bookcases and credenzas.
This is what we mean when we say “Keep only light items on overhead shelves.”
There are several kinds of picture hangers designed to keep your art on the wall during a temblor. I’ve become a big fan of Command strips as a way to secure art to the wall. In addition to a shaking-resistant hold, it enables you to reposition your hangings without damaging the wall. If you must have heavy decorative items on furniture or shelves above waist level, use fishing line to anchor them to the nearest wall.
These are inexpensive steps you can take to make your workplace safer. Employees will see the work being done and get a clear message that you care about their safety. Even if we don’t have a major earthquake on your watch, the goodwill you will build with your employees, and the employee retention that will flow from that, make this one of the highest-return investments you can make in your business.
Do you know a business or organization that cares about and invests in its employees? Forward them this article. Direct them to the preparedness resources on our website. Resilience takes a community. The more businesses and organizations that are ready to respond well to emergencies, the faster the economy and infrastructure of an impacted community will recover.
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