When the Feb. 6, 2023 earthquake struck, many people across Lebanon were caught off guard as their buildings and furnishings began to shake. Although Lebanon was spared the terrible destruction witnessed in Turkey and Syria, safety questions were raised.
In response, countless articles on what to do when a quake strikes were published, but what, if anything, can we do before a quake strikes to protect our homes, families and livelihoods?
L’Orient Today spoke to an expert for best ways to mitigate risk at home before a disaster happens.
How to secure your furniture
“The chandeliers were swinging left and right” — as the sun rose on the morning of Feb. 6, countless Lebanese expressed this observation amid their tales of overnight terror as a 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck southern Turkey reverberated across Lebanon.
Architect Brad Barndt of BHB designs, who has retrofitted many homes in Seattle and worked on projects in Beirut after the Aug.4, 2020 blast, cautions that injuries caused by earthquakes are often the result of furnishings, like light fixtures and bookshelves, falling on people.
He told L’Orient Today that an earthquake occurred in Seattle when he moved to the city in 2000, killing an elderly man who was crushed by a chimney.
“There are numerous ways in which to improve [earthquake] safety within your house or business, and it's relatively inexpensive,” says Barndt.
Barndt says the key is that “things have to be bolted down.” Bookshelves and racks, to prevent them from falling onto residents’ heads, “have to be bolted into the wall, or attached to the ceiling or attached to the floor,” he explains.
Moreover, securing water heaters and adding latches to cabinets can add safety measures and ensure that dishware does not fall inside the cabinets and break.
“Actually, anything you hang on the wall, you make sure there are extra bolts. Same thing for the exterior of the building,” he says, such as signage at the base of the building for small businesses.
Barndt noted that bolting things down does not add a lot of additional costs to a household budget, and many of the same precautions can be taken by stores or cafes with relative ease.
“You sometimes have to have additional wires so that pendant lights or chandeliers don't go swinging, because they can swing and then fall,” he continued.
Let’s not forget the safety of others
“You don’t want planters falling off your [balcony] railing onto people, so you make sure that those types of items and railings themselves have extra security so that they don't fall,” he adds, highlighting the importance of considering the safety of your property in relation to others as well as to yourself.
He advises that plants be secured to the railing of the balcony as they could easily fall in the event of an earthquake. In the case of small potted plants, he recommends that they either be kept on the floor or placed into a flower box secured to the rail.
If potted plants are hung from the ceiling, they should be treated the same as light fixtures by securing them with additional wiring or a side bracket, so that even if the plant swings, it “would still be anchored to the building.”
He recommends that proper chains or cables be used in both cases of plants and light fixtures depending on the weight of the object itself. He suggested that businesses do the same.
After a quake hits, Barndt says windows can pose a danger because they “can pop out and injure people, and possibly kill them” adding that this can also happen with aftershocks.
In the case of windows used to encase balconies, Barndt says “they need to be securely installed and, when purchasing, need to be verified that they have a seismic rating.”
In certain seismic cities, Barndt said citizens are advised to stay inside “to assess what's happening on the street.” This depends on the state of the building: “ If your building is collapsing, you have to get out, but if it's stable people should wait a while, because there could be aftershocks and things can fall on you.”
All these measures will ensure some safety at home. Of course, a lot of work needs to be done on building safety and construction regulations to ensure that buildings are earthquake-proof, but these may be beyond the reach of the average Lebanese citizen.
Meanwhile, taking small precautions can very well save lives when disaster strikes.