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The Napa Earthquake – What Lessons Can We Learn?

Nov 02, 2014 11:31AM ● By Jennifer Neys

by Jim Bonato

It has been two months since we were shaken from a sound sleep to find many of our homes creaking and shuddering from the shock of the 6.0 magnitude South Napa earthquake. The largest quake since Loma Prieta, this one rocked the Napa Valley and its neighboring cities for 20 seconds and resulted in over $400 million in damage to residents’ homes, businesses, and the wine industry.  While Loma Prieta affected the whole Bay Area region, the Napa quake was more localized and tested the preparedness of local public agencies, utility companies, first responders, medical facilities, businesses and residents.

Over 250 people were treated at hospitals in Napa and Vallejo – mostly for cuts from broken glass and bruises.  One person lost her life from a severe head injury caused by a falling television.  Four homes were destroyed, reportedly due to a broken gas line. Facades from brick buildings crumbled and unreinforced masonry fell, damaging both the building of origin and those next to them. Storefront windows popped out or raggedly cracked as far south as Vallejo. Homes were tossed off their foundations, and a total of 156 homes and businesses were red-tagged as they were too badly damaged to be safely occupied.  In the Fern Place neighborhood of Vallejo, every brick chimney either collapsed or was on the verge of collapsing.  There were 150 reported gas leaks, and 144 broken water mains, the latter being tragic during a drought year and could have severely impacted fire districts’ ability to fight fires had they occurred in large numbers. Over 69,000 PG&E customers lost power. Road pavement on several roads in three counties buckled and cracked, making driving hazardous.

So, what lessons can we learn from the Napa quake with respect to our homes and families?  Let’s take a look at some low-cost, smart measures to reduce damage and injuries. Are our homes bolted to the foundation?  Have we reinforced our walls in the crawl space to resist lateral shaking?  Are the gas lines leading to our water heaters and gas stoves flexible?  Do we have a wrench at hand to turn off the gas to our homes if we detect a gas leak?   Have we installed child proof latches to the kitchen cabinets to prevent our dishes, glasses, and food from cascading to the floor?  Have brick features of our homes been retrofitted or reinforced?

The most common injuries from quakes are caused from falling objects and broken glass.  Have we adequately secured tall cabinets, books cases, heavy artwork, and televisions to prevent them from falling, potentially on people?  Does each of us have a pair of gloves, shoes, and a flashlight stored under our beds in case a quake occurs while we’re sleeping? Do we have first aid supplies handy? Have we taken a recent first aid class to learn how to stop bleeding and how to properly bandage wounds if we ever needed to? If we are displaced from our homes, do we have emergency “Go-Kits” for each family member …and pet?

Hopefully we can all answer “yes” to these simple steps. If not, we hope everyone will make these small improvements to their homes and personal readiness. As we learned in Napa, those who were prepared were very glad they had taken the time!