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Minimise the risks: conduct a hazard hunt

Published:Thursday | January 22, 2015 | 1:00 AM

Especially in small earthquakes which make up the vast majority of all earthquakes, most injuries and fatalities occur because the ground shaking dislodges loose objects in and on buildings.

Conduct an earthquake hazard hunt of your environment and eliminate objects that have the potential to cause injuries. Foresight and common sense are all that are needed as you go from room to room and imagine what would happen in an earthquake.

Some common earthquake hazards are:

1 Whatnots, wardrobes, freestanding closets, dressers and bookcases: these may topple over during an earthquake unless they are securely anchored to the wall. Either bolt directly through the back of the furniture into the wall or use steel angle brackets. Fallen furnishings could block your escape route, in addition to causing injury and damage. Freestanding bookshelves, especially in an office setting, should be bolted to the floor and to ceiling posts and put guard rails or 'fences' on open shelves so that items cannot slide off.

2 Tall, heavy lamps, vases, figurines: if you display fragile items on open shelves or tables use industrial Velcro to attach items to stands.

3 Heavy objects on wall shelves: ensure that shelves are securely bolted to walls. Adjustable shelves, the board of which rest on wall brackets, can be stabilised with clips or wire to connect the board to the bracket. Remember to use guardrails on shelves and do not place chairs, desks, beds etc. beneath shelves where items can fall on people.

4 Unsecured TVs, computers on cart with wheels: attach TVs and computers to their stands with industrial Velcro or bolt the items to the stand. Wheels on carts must be able to be locked to ensure that the cart will not roll around wildly.

5 Bed by window, heavy objects on shelves above bed: locate bed near an interior wall and away from windows and hanging light fixtures or any item that may fall on you while in bed. If the bed must be next to a glass window, install shatter-resistant plastic film (like the material used to tint windshields) over the glass to hold

shattered glass in place and prevent it from flying around the room.

6 Heavy pictures above bed: hang these from fixtures that can adequately bear their weight. Items such as hanging pictures and items on shelves will weigh twice as much when they fall. For example, if it weighs two pounds on the wall, it weighs four pounds when it hits, so do not place over beds, desks or chairs.

11 Unfastened cabinet doors: install proper latches on cupboard doors that will not open if the object tilts over or is shaken. Heavy objects inside your cupboards can lean or fall against the inside of the doors, so the latches must be strong enough to withstand this pushing. Be careful not to stand directly in front of cupboards as items lying against the doors can come crashing out on you.

12 Unfastened medicine cabinet doors: the primary hazard in the bathroom during an earthquake is broken glass. Mirrors, toiletries, and medicines can fall and break. Most personal care products are now being packaged, but liquid medicines, perfumes and colognes are sometimes supplied in glass containers. Select products in unbreakable containers where possible and make sure the doors of your medicine cabinet can be secured with a latch.

13 Unattached water heaters: these are very vulnerable to earthquake damage. They are likely to 'walk' or even topple over disconnecting the utility lines, causing gas or water leakage, or electrical shorts, fires or explosions. To prevent the water heater from moving or toppling over, wrap it with two metal straps or chains, near the top and bottom and bolt the ends to the wall.

14. Gas stoves with rigid feed lines: use flexible gas lines that will not break during an earthquake and release gas. Anchor the gas cylinder to the wall with chains and if you are cooking, turn off the stove before taking cover.

House not bolted to foundation: ensure that houses/buildings are properly attached to their foundations.