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  • 16 Sep 2014

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No time like now to prepare for disaster

Homeowners get help being safe, not sorry, in a quake


Photo Credit: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Stacey Schubert stands in the basement of her Southeast Portland house, where it was secured to the foundation to reduce earthquake damage.Stacey Schubert used to worry a lot about an earthquake destroying her Southeast Portland home.

“It’s my biggest investment, and I want to be safe there,” says Schubert, a working single mother.

But Schubert is sleeping easier these days because she had experts secure the home to its foundations. This will prevent it from sliding off and being damaged, which is what happened to a number of homes in Northern California during the 6.0 magnitude earthquake that struck the Napa Valley area on Aug. 24.

That earthquake probably served as a wakeup call to many other Portlanders about what will happen when the predicted Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake strikes here. By coincidence, the Napa Valley quake hit just before September, which is National Emergency Preparedness Month. Government agencies, nonprofit organizations and even community-minded private businesses have scheduled numerous events throughout the month to help people prepare for both natural and manmade disasters, including earthquakes.

Those events include free classes to be conducted by instructors from the Federal Emergency Management Administration on Sept. 17 and 18 at the Oregon Convention Center. They are designed to help you identify and reduce potential earthquake hazards. Common problems include homes that are not secured to their foundations, which means they can slide off and be heavily damaged during a quake (see below for details).

But the question remains, once you know what to do, how do you follow through? The answer is, like any other home-repair project, you can either do it yourself or hire a contractor.

If you are able to do such work yourself, the Portland Bureau of Development Services has a website with specific, detailed information on such earthquake preparedness steps as how to brace walls and secure a home to its foundation. It can be found at www.portlandoregon.gov/bds/53562.

Photo Credit: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - A foundation plate in Stacey Schuberts basement will help mitigate damage in case of an earthquake.If you need to hire a contractor, several companies in Portland advertise that they are qualified to do such work. They can be easily found through Internet searches. Government agencies will not recommend any contractors, however, so you need to confirm their qualifications yourself, just like any other home-remodeling project. Make sure they are licensed by the state, check out references, and ask the Better Business Bureau about any complaints.

A recent FEMA-funded pilot program found the average cost for such work was $5,900. It ranged from $3,000 to $8,000, with each house being different.

A new option is to contact Clean Energy Works, which was created several years ago to help homeowners upgrade their homes to increase energy efficiency. The nonprofit organization does not do such work itself, but instead coordinates with pre-qualified contractors.

CEW recently added seismic retrofits as one of its offerings. The addition was made while working with FEMA on the pilot program that strengthened more than a dozen homes in Portland.

Work begins with a comprehensive home inspection that identifies both energy and seismic work that can be done. If homeowners do both, some of the seismic work can be repaid through the energy bills. Otherwise, CEW can help arrange seismic-specific loans.

The seismic program will be launched on Sept. 22, but interested homeowners already can sign up at www.cewo.org/seismic.

Schubert had the work on her home done through the pilot project. She previously had worked with CEW to increase the energy efficiency of her home. When CEW contacted her about participating in the pilot project, which paid 75 percent of the cost of the seismic upgrades, she jumped at the opportunity.

“I had been thinking about preparing my house for earthquakes, but I was worried I couldn’t afford the work. So when I had a chance to only pay 25 percent, I was glad to do it,” Schubert says.

According to Schubert, both the energy and seismic upgrades went smoothly, with CEW arranging for the initial inspections, finding the contractors, and coordinating the work.

“It only took about week,” Schubert says of the recent seismic work.

Free seismic classes offered

As part of National Preparedness Month, two free classes are being offered on Sept. 17 and 18 to help residents prepare their houses for earthquakes. They will be held from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Oregon Convention Center, 777 N.E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

The topics are as follows:

n Wednesday, Sept. 17: Don’t get smooshed. Subjects include securing bookshelves, copiers, TVs and refrigerators — the kinds of nonstructural hazards that can cause great harm and account for a majority of damage in several recent U.S. earthquakes.

n Thursday, Sept. 18: How it shakes out at home. An introduction to the common effects of a large earthquake on homes — and how to reduce the damage they cause and keep them livable.

To register for the classes, visit portlandoregon.gov/pbem/article/499940.

The classes are offered by the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management and Oregon Emergency Management, with support from FEMA and Metro.

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