Prepare your home

What happens during an Earthquake?

Earthquakes of any size can impact your home. Damaged utility lines could put your home and your life at danger and your home could experience structural damage, making it unsafe to enter. Learn about what you can do to make your home safer , and ow to respond effectively during an earthquake. 

Following a disaster if utilities (gas, water, electricity) are damaged it may be necessary to turn them off. Emergency service providers and utility employees will be overwhelmed following the disaster, so it is important to know when and how to shut off your water, electricity and gas if you need to.

Emergency Gas Shut Off

Image of a gas metter and graphic depicting the shut off valve truning 90 degrees to shut it offEveryone in your family should know where the gas meter is located and how to turn it off. Most meters are at the front or side of the house. Some are put inside the building. In apartments or commercial buildings, they might be in the back. Don't turn off your gas if there is no leak. If you don't smell or hear gas escaping, you shouldn't turn off the gas. In the past we've taught people to turn off their gas no matter what. Unfortunately, the only safe way to turn the gas back on (after there has been damage to the line) is to have a certified technician come out. On a regular day this would not be a problem, but following a big disaster, individual homes will be the lowest priority. That means that you could be without gas service for several days or possibly months. But, If you do smell gas or hear a leak it's vital that you turn off the gas!

Here's how to do it: Locate the meter shut-off valve. It's usually the first fitting on the gas supply pipe coming out of the ground near your meter. Use a long-handled wrench to give the valve one-quater turn in either direction so that the lever is crosswise to the pipe. Once the gas is off, leave it off.  Contact your gas company to inspect the system, check and relight appliances.


Water Shut Off

Image of a water shut off valve, a cirle handle on a pipe with a label.Water becomes a precious resource following a big disaster. Teaching everyone in the household how to turn off the water is important. Unlike gas, the water can be turned on and off with no safety concerns.  Your house has a number of sources for water, but if cracked lines pollute the water supply coming into your house or the effects of gravity drain the water in your hot water and toilet tanks, those sources won't be available. Following a major disaster it's wise to turn off the water until you hear from authorities that the water supply is safe.

Preparing to shut off water: Locate the shut-off valve for the water line that enters your house. Don't try to turn off the street valve at the cement box at the curb, this valve is extremely difficult to turn and requires a special tool. Your water valve may look like the picture to the left. Make sure that the valve can be completely shut off. Your valve may be rusted open, or it may only partially close. Make repairs before the day of the disaster. Label the valve with a tag for easy identification, and make sure all household members know where it's located.


Electrical Shut Off

It's wise to teach all responsible household members where and how to shut off the electricity. Just as with your water, turning your electricity back on doesn't pose a significant safety risk, although we recommend that you follow the steps below. 

Preparing to shut off electricity 

• Locate your electricity circuit box. 

• Flip the main breaker to the OFF position to turn off electric to the entire house or unit

 Download PDF version of this information

If you're using a generator during a disaster make sure you use it safely by:

  • Not overloading it by powering too much
  • Not using it indoors even if it's portable
  • Following the safety recommendations for storing the generator and fuel
  • Connecting and running your generator correctly

Learn more about safe generator use

Securing your home does not have to cost a lot of money or take a lot of time. Strapping down large pieces of furniture and making sure that wall hangings are secured into studs and hung in locations that don't create risk (like at the head of your bed) are just two steps you can take to reduce your risk of injury.

Check out the link for more detailed instruction on how to make your home safer.

Home Hazard Hunt

Take 30 minutes to go on a "Hazard Hunt". Imagine that the ground is shaking and you are in your "Quake-Safe" location. Look around and think about the items in your house and if they are likely to cause injury or damage. 

Was your home built before 1980?

Prior to 1980, building codes did not require builders to secure houses to their foundations. This does not mean that every house built before 1980 is "unsecured", only that it was not a requirement. If your home is not properly secured, it may be at increased risk of "slipping" off the foundation during a major earthquake. Retrofitting involves bolting your home to its foundation and providing sheer/pony wall strength. The goal is to increase the structural integrity, but does not mean that your home is "earthquake proof" (there is no such thing). Retrofitting does increase the chance that your home will withstand the shaking and be intact following an earthquake. The good news is that wood framed construction, which is the primary building material in our area, performs well during earthquakes.  If you are considering retrofitting your home, you may want to check out a class offered by the Seattle Office of Emergency Management and the Department of Planning and Development. The class is offered for free and teaches homeowners :

  • How to evaluate your home to determine if it qualifies for the standard earthquake retrofitting plan
  • How to retrofit your home using Project Impact's Regional Home Retrofit guidelines
  • Tool usage and proper installation of parts
  • How to brace pony walls
  • How to secure the first floor framing
  • Which engineering solution can be applied to your home and when
  • The expedited permit process regionally and building code requirements (and why they are important)
  • Safety issues

Check out our Events Calendar to view our upcoming classes.

The class provides demonstrations and each participant will receive a packet of literature and detailed drawings. The class is designed for all homeowners, whether you are planning to do the work yourself or hire a qualified contractor to do it for you. The cost of retrofitting depends on what needs to be done and if you can do some of it yourself. Materials can cost as little as a few hundred dollars.


If you are not the do-it-yourself type, the class will give you information on what to look for when hiring a professional contractor.

Contractors on this list have completed a 6-hour building professional training course on seismic retrofitting offered by the Washington Association of Building Officials (WABO). We cannot recommend specific contractors, so we suggest that homeowners do additional research, including checking references, experience, and current professional standing before selecting a contractor to help with home projects. Contractors listed may offer other services in addition to residential retrofitting, such as new construction and remodeling. Unless otherwise noted, they are licensed as general contractors. Many of your retrofit questions and guidance on how to work with a contractor will be answered in the Homeowner Class. 

View a list of contractors who have completed a six hour contractor training for home retrofit.

To learn more about the home retrofit process, get home retrofit plans, or apply for a permit visit the Department of Construction and Inspections website. 

Remember: If you are going to hire a trained contractor to retrofit your home, we still recommend that you attend a class to understand the process so you can be a better informed consumer.

Emergency Management

Curry Mayer, Director
Address: 105 5th Ave S, Suite 300, Seattle, WA, 98104
Mailing Address: PO Box 34986, Seattle, WA, 98124-4986
Phone: (206) 233-5076
Fax: (206) 684-5998

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