A couple of weeks ago our San Francisco bay area Quake Cottage Earthquake Simulator paid a visit to Coast Guard Island in Alameda, California on the same day our Southern California Quake Cottage was at a navy base in the San Diego area. It was our fifth trip out to the island, and the 2nd time we’d been to the Southern California base.

Coast Guard Day - 001Coast Guard Day - 004 - We were the star attraction

These trips come in the midst of other planned training exercises at United States Air Force and Marine facilities in the region. In fact, we’ve been fortunate enough to have trained hundreds of our troops and their families in the basics of earthquake readiness and the techniques of home fastening over the past several years. On top of that, the United States Navy actually owns two earthquake simulators that we custom-built for them. These units are in use over in Japan.

Why, you may ask, is there such a focus on earthquake preparedness in the armed forces?

I often get the opportunity to provide a training seminar during our Quake Cottage visits to bases. During one recent session I learned that a large majority of the folks stationed at the base don’t live at the base itself. That was a surprise. I thought most everyone stationed at these bases lived in barracks on the bases, like in the old Gomer Pyle show.

Times most certainly have changed. So apparently, like most everyone else, many military base folks have to commute to work on a daily basis. And it just won’t do to have members of the military not show up to work because of an earthquake.

Before I gave a recent presentation to about 300 people at military facility, the commanding officer stressed the importance of home readiness to his troops. While he did not mandate that everyone under his command prepare their personal residences for a major earthquake, he did stress that when such an earthquake strikes, failure by anyone to show up as directed to their post following such an event would not be tolerated.

It makes sense. The National Guard and Army Core are not the only responders in a major disaster. 

And, if a soldier is needed for the greater good, but the soldier or a family member is seriously injured by flying furniture within a few seconds of an earthquake, then that is a problem. Or, if any other first responder isn’t prepared at home, and home becomes a hazard in an earthquake, then that too is a problem.

The fact is falling furniture, broken gas lines and even wedged doors can cause significant ripple effects in an earthquake. The military seems to be doing something about that.

How about you?




About three weeks after last year’s Napa earthquake, engineers from Stanford University unveiled what was called an “earthquake resistant” house.

The building was base-isolated; situated on rollers that allowed it to skate back in forth and remain unscathed in a shake table test that was described to be three times the “intensity” of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. I was reminded of the news when I recently drove past the Disney movie studios in Burbank, California. My wife worked at the studios during the 1994 Northridge earthquake, and she told me that the buildings that suffered the most damage on the campus were the ones that had recently been base isolated. Base isolated buildings reportedly performed quite well in the Japan tsunami earthquake, while base isolated computer servers did not in the destructive 2011 Christchurch New Zealand 6.7 earthquake.

So how do you know if the building you are in is safe in an earthquake? Even engineers don’t always agree. World renowned earthquake expert and best-selling author Peter Yanev caused quite a stir with his New York Times article on the vulnerability of tall buildings in Seattle.

This came on the heels of a report from the Oregon Department of Education that announced that more than 1000 school buildings in the state had either a high or very high probability of collapse in an earthquake.

Still, large earthquakes have recently shown that we can build structures that can withstand enormous amounts of shaking. Check out the top left photo below. This is a building in Chile that shook for more than 4 minutes in an 8.8 magnitude earthquake in 2010.


Photos Courtesy of Peter Yanev

This building doesn’t even have a broken window, and shook longer and harder than most buildings ever will. Still, the company that occupied the building was put out of business, because they hadn’t bothered to secure the contents inside (the rest of the photos), but that wasn’t the building’s fault. It’s one strong building!

I live in a single story, wood frame home in Southern California. This is the exact type of structure that the USGS recently referred to as “Seismic Zones of Safety” due to their exceptional performance in earthquakes. And, unlike the company in Chile with the super-strong building, I HAVE secured the contents of my home. Still, I wonder. Should I put in some of those Stanford Rollers?



Last week has seen a dramatic rise in folks “liking” Safe-T-Proof, on Facebook. Interest in earthquake preparedness products such as Safe-T-Proof fasteners and radios is at an all-time high, despite the fact that we haven’t experienced a significant temblor in the United States for many years, and the Napa earthquake of 2014 was small and had only a regional impact.

There was the recent San Andreas Movie. Did that get folks inspired to prepare?


Maybe it was the recent New Yorker article about the Cascadia Subduction Zone, or the earthquakes in Oklahoma and Nepal that have peaked interest.

Whatever the cause, social media, while not abuzz, has at least started earthquake humming.

Much has been documented about the effectiveness of social media immediately following a disaster. Check out this article in Scientific American:

Amazing stuff!   Still, all of this attention has got me thinking. How can we best use social media to help folk prepare for an earthquake? I may be late to the party here, but my guess is that not only can preparedness tips and tricks be shared using this medium, but the latest in scientific breakthroughs in the geology of earthquakes, early warning system advances, and how-to instructional videos on preparedness techniques. It’s all good information, and needed.

Remember that earthquake preparedness matters, and significantly reduces damage causes by earthquakes.

I encourage you to check out our Facebook Page. Visit often, get the latest and share what you know.



If you’re like me, the recent recall of millions of pieces of household furniture in the wake of two children dying due to falling furniture got your attention. I am in the furniture bracing field, and have secured building contents for many years in order to keep things in place when the ground starts shaking from an earthquake.

But disasters come in all sizes and shapes, and their impact is much more than their magnitude or category size. Hurricane Sandy and the earthquake in Haiti, taught us that. And in some instances, a disaster is one piece of furniture falling over.

Check out this video and notice how even low profile furniture can tip over easily under the right circumstances.

Imagine that—such an easy tip-over—with the pressure of one finger!

The way I look at it is if I secure items in anticipation of a major earthquake, it will also be an excellent child safety maneuver. The opposite is also true. My wife lived just a few miles from the epicenter of the 1994 Northridge earthquake and was able to serve a lasagna dinner to her neighbors the night of the earthquake because she had baby-proofed her furniture. She had a curious and climbing two year old.

So, let’s say you’ve decided to secure your furniture—for whatever reason: Earthquakes and/or Kid-Quakes. How do you do that? I will cover that in next week’s blog, but for now let me tell you two things NOT to do.

For years agencies and experts have recommended the following when securing furniture:

  • Use flexible fasteners (think strap furniture in place rather than bolt it in place).
  • Fasten items to the building structure at wall studs (not into dry wall).

Why? Let me cover these.

The picture below is a typical L-Bracket made of a thin metal. In the Northridge earthquake a lot of these broke when the ground lifted. The wall was moving in a different direction than the floor.


Check out this video of what happened when I twisted this bracket a few times:

While this may not break the first time a child climbs on the furniture, how about the 10th time? The 20th time?Best to stay away from these types of brackets.

Now, quite often drywall anchors are used (sometimes they will be called molly bolts, mollies or toggles). They look like the picture below. The idea is you drill a hole in the wall, pound the plastic holder in place with a hammer, then tighten the screw into the holder. Again, these go into drywall—which is the portion of wall in-between the vertical studs (which are usually sixteen inches apart).


Now, check out the video:

It did take some effort, but I pulled the anchor right out of the wall. Again, how many times would the pressure from a climbing child need to be applied to this wall anchor before the screw comes out. Is that based on the weight of the child, the size and shape of the unit? I’ll tell you one thing, a screw drilled into a wall stud cannot be pulled out.

What’s the bottom line here? What two things do you NOT do? Do not use rigid light-gauge metal l-brackets to secure furniture. Also, do not use drywall anchors to secure furniture.

I recommend, if you are going to secure furniture to keep it from falling over, use the Safe-T-Proof fastening system.

Next week I’ll show you how to install flexible fasteners.


Earlier this evening on my social media account someone had posted this week’s article from New Yorker magazine, which featured the Cascadia Subduction Zone and the immense earthquake threat in the Pacific Northwest.

I knew all about the article and have just returned from QuakeSmart Earthquake Preparedness summits in Seattle and Portland. I’ve been writing about Oregon and Washington preparedness for the last couple of months. What struck about the social media post was one comment, which read in response to the earthquake threat “Or, you could get hit by a bus tomorrow.” I wonder, do people really think like that? Do folks look at death-by-earthquake as a random, unpreventable inevitability? I don’t; nobody I work with does. Do you?

Earthquakes are a disaster in which the impact is quite often felt in direct proportion to preparedness, or lack thereof. The Napa earthquake bore that out, almost in textbook fashion.   The earthquake preparedness formula is basic and straightforward: Secure the structure, secure the space, get provisions, be part of the solution.

I am certain that not everyone in the Pacific Northwest has a “hit by a bus” mentality when it comes to earthquake preparedness. And though I doubt droves of people are moving away from the coast in fear of the estimated 100 foot tsunami bound for certain sections of the coastline, the New Yorker article has had an impact.

The phone at our Quake Cottage offices rang steadily all week, as people called us from Medford to Bremerton. Many folks who saw us two months ago in British Columbia contacted us as well.

20150505_083959 (2)

This week we will coordinating a return trip to the region with the Quake Cottage. That is if we don’t all get hit by a bus first.

Up from the ground come a bubblin’…Helium?

Sometimes critical news is easy to miss. The days of relying solely on the daily paper and the evening network news for the latest information have disappeared. Nowadays, with e-news and e-gossip coming at us at lighting speed, it’s tough to know if perhaps critical information didn’t make it through to the folks who need to know.

Take this article for instance: Helium Leaking from Earth in Southern California

I am a southern California resident. I never saw nor heard this story on any of the local outlets. Should I be worried about helium leakage near my home? Does it matter?

The Newport-Inglewood fault runs from Culver City to Newport Beach. Check out the map of the area:


My guess is there are a whole lot of people living in this region. Now scientists can’t say if or how this new discovery, of helium gas at a relatively shallow depth along a good portion of the fault line, changes how we look at the earthquake threat in the region, but my guess is it has to mean something.

Helium is found at the earth’s mantle, WAY down deep in the ground. The Newport-Inglewood fault has been thought to be a remnant of a prehistoric subduction fault, but nobody thought that the fault connected all the way down to the area of the mantle.

Most certainly science will continue to reveal surprising information about earthquake faults, and no doubt such revelations will change the manner and location in which we construct buildings. Then again, based on recent history, maybe not!

Independence Day

There was a lot of news coverage of recovery efforts following the 2011 Japan earthquake. In addition to the search for survivors following the massive quake and tsunami, relief efforts were coordinated and organized provision distribution stations were established.


I remember television commentary on the orderly nature of the distribution proceed. Everyone was so calm, so well behave. Experts wondered how Californians would behave faced with similar circumstances.

Would our line look like this?


Or like this?


I wonder. Still, when I think about my life post-mega quake I really would prefer to avoid any type of distribution line at all—peaceful or not. Think about it. Even in the most orderly distribution system, someone from the family would be in line all day. Get in line at dawn to get breakfast. Eat breakfast. Get in line for lunch. Eat lunch. Get in line for dinner. Eat dinner. Go to bed and do it again tomorrow. I don’t know if things would shake out like that, but why would I want to get in line anyway?   I prefer the attitude of the late comedian John Pinette: Get Outta Line!

So today is Independence Day.   Independence from depending on others to help my family after an earthquake. Independence from waiting in line.

Last week’s blog introduced the real potentiality that some services and infrastructure may not be available for more than a year after a major earthquake. I don’t think a 72 hour kit is going to cut it. At the most recent QuakeSmart summit the audience was told that a two week supply of food and water would be more likely what the average family should keep on hand.

I see a problem here. If the water out of the tap takes months to come back on, and I have three days, or even two weeks of water on hand, and it’s not raining, and I need water; I am faced with the real probability of having to get into line. I think I’ve been clear. I do not want to get into line.

Everything about this preparedness effort my family is on has been progressive in nature. We have water for two weeks for everyone (including pets) in the household. How did we get there? Let me walk you through the step by step process:

First we got three days’ worth of water. We had at the time four adults, two cats and one dog in the house. The recommended amount is a gallon per person per day. So, four adults times three days is twelve gallons. I added a quart per day for each pet. This would add a bit over two gallons to the total. So, for starters, we purchased a 15 gallon food grade barrel, and added a cool preserver to it and the water was ready for the next five years.

But, as is the case with many families, things change. Uncle Don moved in with us, and we added his dog Pickles to the clan. Plus, we now want enough water for two weeks minimum. The math is the following: Five adults times one gallon times fourteen days. We now need seventy gallons of water on hand for the humans, and a little more than three gallons for the pets.

Our water on hand today takes on many forms. We have that original fifteen gallon barrel with the preserver in it. We’ve added a 55 gallon barrel, and a case of liter size water in plastic containers. We are accumulating full cases of the five-year pouch water as well.

My guess is that the powers that be may eventually recommend folks keep months of provisions on hand. I am no prepper, and really would rather not drop off the grid and construct a seven thousand gallon water tank or two. In the end my guess that despite my efforts, I may need eventually to get in line if the earthquake is catastrophic. And if that occurs I promise, I will behave.






That’s not an Earthquake!

There’s a great scene in the movie Crocodile Dundee where a couple appears as they are going to be robbed by a switch-blade toting teen. The woman pleads, “Give him your wallet”, adding perceptively “he’s got a knife”. The hero laughs and says, “That’s not a knife”, and then he pulls out his foot long blade and adds, “THAT’s a knife.”

People act like that when discussing earthquakes. Californians scoff at folks all over the country, most recently Oklahomans, who are experiencing earthquakes for the first time. The conversation goes something like this:

Aunt Flossie from Oklahoma: “Wow, we’ve had about twenty earthquakes here in the last month. My nerves are shot!”

Nephew Skippy from Burbank: “Those aren’t earthquakes. Northridge was an earthquake.”

Even though Skippy was two years old when the 6.7 earthquake devastated the region, he’s inherited the California earthquake superiority complex. That attitude, along with a comme ci, comme ça attitude regarding earthquakes in general puts many Californians in preparedness limbo, not quite ignoring the fact we live in earthquake country, but not quite taking all of needed steps to prepare for the worst.

Still, in terms of earthquake threat and corresponding lack of preparedness, the Pacific Northwest and its Cascadia Subduction Zone is as far removed from the puny California San Andreas Fault System as Dundee’s Bushwhacker Blade is from the would-be robber’s knife.

The Mega-Thrust earthquake now due could potentially send a 100 ft. tall tsunami into the Oregon coastline, according to a recent presentation at the QuakeSmart Business Preparedness summit held in Oregon City.

Oregon Public Broadcasting has an amazing website dedicated to the earthquake threat in the region. Not only do they describe how big the Bushwhacker Earthquake will be (This is my term not theirs!) but how unprepared the region is. There is a wonderful tool on the site that describes how long and what kind of services will be out following a subduction zone break.

I used to live in Oregon, just outside Portland. So I entered in the zip code for my former residence, and I learned that the following is expected:


This may take some noodling in order to assess the impact. But let me summarize: After the major earthquake, if I live in Lake Oswego I can expect the water to come back on in more than a year, police and fire departments up and running in six months, and a return to health care normalcy in three years? Oh, and it will be 18 months until the roads are back to normal.

You know, living in California in the middle of earthquake country isn’t so bad after all!


QuakeSmart and the Pacific Northwest

We rolled north across the border into southern Oregon yesterday, headed to Seattle for a seismic anchorage project and a couple of QuakeSmart preparedness summits. The pickup is loaded with earthquake readiness display pieces and bracing products – rails, struts and fasteners. We’ve got the “Safe-T-Proof Disaster Preparedness Co.” signage on the rig, and we attract attention all along the route.

When we stop for gas or a bite to eat, we’re invariably asked what the heck all of this gear is for. And, when we bring up the fact we’re here to help businesses prepare for earthquakes, the common question we get is: “Do you know something we don’t know?”

I certainly hope not.

Oregon and Washington are both situated smack dab on the “Ring of Fire”. The Cascadia Subduction Zone makes the region prone to a significantly larger earthquake than could ever happen on the famous San Andreas Fault. How large an earthquake?

The Cascadia Region Earthquake Workgroup is a coalition of private and public representatives working together to improve the ability of regional communities, businesses and homeowners to reduce the effects of earthquakes. They’ve done a lot of research regarding a major Pacific Northwest earthquake, and published a startling scenario about the event called “Cascadia Subduction Zone Earthquakes: A magnitude 9.0 earthquake scenario”.

And while this type of mega-quake would no doubt devastate the area in a multitude of ways, it is not the only earthquake that could cause real and lasting problems.

The diverse earthquake threat facing Oregon and Washington has been publicized for several years. Yet, I dare say, that Oklahomans are more earthquake aware these days than people in this region. The reason, nothing brings earthquake preparedness more into the public eye than actual earthquakes.

Enter QuakeSmart. This new FEMA program is designed to help businesses take needed steps to systematically prepare for earthquakes of all types. This coming week, earthquake experts will present critical information to local businesses regarding the specific seismic threat, the expected first responder response, and the QuakeSmart program itself. Initial QuakeSmart summits will take place in Seattle and Portland, and will no doubt be the first of many to come.

My hope is that when we return for preparedness efforts in the future, folks will know why the heck we are here.




San Andreas: Fact vs. Fantasy

I sat with my wife Trish watching the movie San Andreas last night at a theater in Canyon Country, California. We both were having a great time, when about half way through the film Trish leaned over and whispered something (hard to do over the sound of San Francisco falling to pieces) to the teenage girl in the seat next to her. After the film and on the way to the parking lot, I asked Trish what was up with the patron in the adjacent seat.

“She was really upset,” she told me. “She said the movie was freaking her out.”

“What did you say?” I asked.

“I told her that I worked in the earthquake business and that nothing that was happening on the screen was real. I told her we would never have an earthquake like that.” That’s my wife. She is in this line of work not only to save lives, but to help people do what she calls “Embrace the Disaster.”

I work with a lot of people like Trish. We see earthquake preparedness as a life-saving endeavor, and work hard to separate out myth from reality when it comes to earthquake readiness.

Yet some folks still believe it’s better to get next to a bed, get into a doorway, run outside or even get into a bathtub in an earthquake. And so, in an effort to help separate the sense from the nonsense, here are charts to help you know where to get accurate earthquake preparedness information.


The following movies
Crack in the World
Draquila: Italy Trembles
San Andreas