Home Safety

The coast of BC is considered to be a high-risk earthquake zone. In this region, tectonic plates are moving apart, sliding past one another and colliding. It is the movement of these plates that causes small earthquakes (daily), potentially damaging earthquakes (decades apart), and some of the world’s largest earthquakes (centuries apart).

Earthquakes strike without warning, so it is important to act now to get prepared.

Click to view the Earthquake Home Hazards guide created by FEMA

Unbraced Water Heaters

The Problem
The water heater may not be securely attached to the wall and can topple during an earthquake. If gas or electrical lines are broken as it falls, a fire and water damage may result. This is a common and serious problem but is relatively easy and inexpensive to fix.

How to Identify It
Examine your water heater to see if there are metal straps or braces around it that are screwed into the wall. Make sure the screws go into studs or into concrete and not just into drywall or plaster. Pull on the straps or braces to make sure they are secure and tight.

What Can Be Done
Use metal tubing, heavy metal strapping, and lag screws and washers to secure the water heater to the wall studs. Flexible pipes for the gas and water lines are safer in an earthquake than rigid pipes.

Natural Gas Safety – FORTIS GAS

The Problem
Natural gas piping and appliances in homes can be damaged resulting in releases of natural gas that can lead to fires if ignition sources are present. Natural gas is typically a factor in about one out of four fire ignitions following earthquakes. Structural weaknesses or the absence of appliance anchors and flexible pipe connections lead to a greater possibility of gas leaks following earthquakes.

How to Identify It
Examine all natural gas appliances (water heaters, dryers, stoves, ovens, furnaces) to see if they are anchored to the floor or walls and have flexible pipe connections.

What Can Be Done
If you smell gas, hear gas escaping, or suspect a broken gas pipe, appliance, vent or flue, use a wrench to turn off the gas valve located at the gas meter. However once the gas has been shutoff, service can only be restored by utility personnel.

Unreinforced Chimneys

The Problem
Many chimneys are built of unreinforced brick or stone and can collapse or fall over during earthquakes. If the chimney comes apart, the brick or stone may fall, damaging houses and cars and injuring people. Stay clear of collapse zone

How to Identify It
Determining whether a chimney is susceptible to earthquakes is not easy. Tall, slender chimneys are most vulnerable to collapse. If the mortar between the brick or stone crumbles when you pick at it with a screwdriver, the chimney may be a hazard. Inspect the attic and floor spaces for the metal ties that should be holding the chimney to the house.

What Can Be Done
You can replace the chimney, or nail plywood panels above the ceiling, in the house’s attic or under the shingles when you reroof, to prevent the brick or stone from falling into the house. Metal straps can be installed to tie the chimney to the house. Metal flues can replace the upper chimney if the mortar is good. Don’t locate near patios, children’s play areas, or parking spaces near a questionable chimney. Tell your family members to get away from chimneys and fireplaces during earthquakes.

In the kitchen

  • Unsecured cabinet doors fly open during earthquakes, allowing glassware and dishes to crash to the floor. Many types of latches are available to prevent this: child-proof latches, hook and eye latches, or positive catch latches designed for boats.
  • Gas appliances should have flexible connectors to reduce the risk of fire.
  • Secure refrigerators and other major appliances to walls using earthquake appliance straps.
  • Objects on open shelves & tabletops. Collectibles, pottery objects, and lamps can become deadly projectiles.

Use either hook and loop fasteners on the table and object, or non-damaging adhesives such as earthquake putty, clear quake gel, or microcrystalline wax to secure breakables in place.
Move heavy items and breakables to lower shelves.


Televisions, stereos, computers and microwaves and other electronics are heavy and costly to replace.
They can be secured with flexible nylon straps and buckles for easy removal and relocation.


  • Secure the tops of all top-heavy furniture, such as bookcases and file cabinets, to a wall. Be sure to anchor to the stud, and not just to the drywall.
  • Flexible fasteners such as nylon straps allow tall objects to sway without falling over, reducing the strain on the studs.
  • Loose shelving can also be secured by applying earthquake putty on each corner bracket.
  • In the garage or utility room
  • Items stored in garages and utility rooms can fall, causing injuries, damage, and hazardous spills or leaks. They can also block access to vehicles and exits.
  • Move flammable or hazardous materials to lower shelves or the floor.

Water heater

  • Unsecured water heaters often fall over, rupturing rigid water and gas connections.
  • If your water heater does not have two straps around it that are screwed into the studs or masonry of the wall, then it is not properly braced.
  • Bracing kits are available that make this process simple. Have a plumber install flexible (corrugated) copper water connectors, if not already done.

Structural integrity

  • Houses that are not bolted to the foundation can move off their foundations during earthquakes.
  • Wooden floors and stud walls are sometimes built on top of an exterior foundation to support a house and create a crawl space. These stud walls carry the weight of the house. During an earthquake, these walls can collapse if they are not braced to resist horizontal movement.
  • If the wall fails, the house may shift or fall.

Wood stoves & fireplaces

Free-standing wood stoves could cause a fire if knocked over or flues become loose. Secure the stove/flue to wall or floor studs. Make sure you have a fire extinguisher close at hand.

Glass windows

Windows, which might flex and blow out, could show those within range with sharp glass fragments.
Try to remain clear of windows if possible.  Keep blinds/shades down to assist with possible glass containment. Consider applying a safety film on the glass to prevent flying projectiles.

Utilities: gas, electricity, water

Pipes and connections can become lose in an earthquake – if you smell gas, hear gas escaping or suspect a broken pipe, appliance or vent – use a wrench and turn off the gas valve.  Once the gas has been shutoff – it can only be turned back on by utility personnel.
Know where and how to shut off the primary connections to your house (electrical panel, water main & gas meter).