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Safety Check: What to Do After an Earthquake Hit Your Home

Jul 28, 2022
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The first thing that we should all do when we experience an earthquake is to keep ourselves protected. That is also true even after because the threat does not end once the earthquake is over. Be wary of the aftershocks, landslides, and other earth movement that could still cause harm and injuries. Call 911 or health professionals for members who are injured. Do not enter any damaged areas after the earthquake. Check, listen or read important information from media and government agencies. If all seems clear, only then can you enter your house again. Our first instinct when an earthquake has hit our homes is to clean up. Wipe out dust, clean the glass shards, pick up fallen objects, rehang paintings and photographs, and put everything back in their respective places. Checking for structural damage does not come instinctively, unless it is so obvious that our hindsight could not miss it.
Do a structural walk around your house
Even if you see no immediate damage in your house, it does not mean that it is completely safe from the earthquake’s havoc. The natural occurrence may have loosened or damaged any key components of the house’s structures. It’s just that it is not obvious enough because you see no collapse or whatsoever. But with the shaking that has happened, your house may have suffered significant damage. Or worse, it may be just a jolt away from a more serious structural collapse.

Here are some of the exterior and interior parts of your house that needs checking:

1. Foundation
The most critical part of the house that you need to check first is the foundation and anything that connects to it. Check for cracks, visible tilting and leaning, and the levelness of the foundation. The connection of the house to the foundation may form to be weak or broken. If there would be another after shock, a portion or even the whole house may collapse. You may want to stay out of the house until a professional has done serious checks and determined if the house is still safe for you to move in again.
2. Crawl spaces
For those whose homes have crawl spaces under them, check if the post and beams have shifted out of position. It is very uncommon for these parts to form cracks or move. Otherwise, it could mean that the floor may have sloped or sagged. And further seismic movement may cause its collapse. But be very careful. Do not enter any crawl spaces. Just take a cursory look because you would not want to get trapped inside or injured in case aftershocks could occur.
3. Roof
Stand where you can have a look of the roof. See if there are any changes from all its sides. Check if there are any humps or waves that weren’t visible before, if the roof bows in places, or if the ridge line is not as straight as before. Also see the condition of the rafters and trusses, and the rest of the roof’s framing.
4. Exterior walls
Go to the corners of the house to observe. Check if anything is unusual like if the exterior walls seem wavy or bowed. If you are not sure, you may use a level to see if the walls are tilted or leaning.
5. Retaining walls and yard
If you see that your retaining walls have developed cracks, or shown signs of leaning or falling over, it is a sign that your house may have suffered structural damage. Other visible signs of damage include soil movement in your yard, and damaged or leaning block walls or brick fences. If you see cracks running through your yard to the street or adjacent house, it is a clear warning sign that the house may have foundation damage.
6. Interior
A word of warning, though, is to enter the house only if you are sure that the house is safe. It might be best to have professionals oversee the conditions of your house. You and the professionals will be looking at signs of structural damage in the interiors. First off is the entryways or the doors. The doors have gaps, stuck shut, or are difficult to open and shut. And so are the windows–have gaps, stuck shut, or are difficult to open and shut. The drywall or plaster have wide cracks, diagonal cracks in the corner areas–wall to ceiling and wall to wall. The walls are leaning or bowing. The ceilings are damaged or sagging. The floors are sagging or sloping. The soil movement may have caused the shift, slope, or crack.
7. Attic
For those who have attics, do not forget to check this area in your house as well, especially if you see signs of sagging, bowing, or cracking on the roof and interior ceilings. Check if there are bent or loose hardware, and if there are broken or cracked rafters and trusses.
8. Garage
It is worth mentioning that you should never fail to do structural checks on your garage as well. Aside from the abovementioned structures, also check if the stored items in your garage fell. Most garage owners store hazardous or flammable materials inside. So inspect if there are any spills or leaks. Also check if the access to the vehicles and exits are blocked.

Consult experts on structural issues

Once you have done structural checks, you can not be too sure still. So if you still have doubts or whatsoever when it comes to the safety of your homes, do not think twice consulting a professional. These are structural engineers, local building department professionals, and FEMA and other emergency disaster agencies personnel.

In summary

The bottom line is to have structural checks of your home after any moderate or significant shaking. Much so if there have been aftershocks. Your house may have suffered partial collapse or damage. And you would not want to subject yourself and your family members to possible injuries and health scares. Making structural checks as standard operating procedure will help you keep safe and determine if the house will still hold after the unwanted incidents.