OAKLAND -- On a hillside overlooking the East Bay sits a tan-colored, stucco-coated house with a reddish-brown Spanish tile roof. Well maintained inside and out, its appearance belies the history of the property beneath its walls.
The small plot of land on this narrow, winding street has seen its share of disaster over the past few decades. The original house here survived the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, only to be destroyed two years later in the Oakland Hills Fire.
Today, Stephen and Karen Clayton own the rebuilt house, which has stood here since 1994. The well-traveled couple says they're aware of the earthquake risk they face here.
"We lived in Japan, where there are many, many earthquakes," Mrs. Clayton said. "I lived through the 1989 earthquake."
For a personalized assessment of their earthquake readiness, they hired Sarah Jones, owner of Quake Readiness, LLC in Oakland. Jones calls herself a "Quake Coach".
"It starts with small things, like having some things by the side of the bed, and it goes all the way up to retrofitting or insurance," Jones said.
Ready and Steady
Over a few hours on site, Jones evaluates a client's house itself. She also identifies the best escape routes and demonstrates when and how to shut off natural gas, which can be vital knowledge.
"In the 1906 big San Francisco earthquake, it wasn't the earthquake that killed people," Jones said. "It was the fires following the earthquake."
Inside the Clayton home, Jones showed NBC Bay Area how her expert eye focuses on small but essential steps.
"The homeowners have a lot of lipped shelves built in, that will help keep things from coming out," Jones said, pointing at a shelf with a small barrier on its outside edge.
"I do recommend that, for things that are valuable, that you secure them with museum putty," she added.
Jones pointed out the importance of securing tall furniture like bookcases to walls, using brackets or velcro straps. That's critical to preventing these heavy items from falling over and causing injury.
Surviving After an Earthquake
Besides ensuring furniture and decor are safer, Jones teaches families what they need to shelter in place after a disaster. She develops a step-by-step strategy to store food and find clean water -- which might be closer than you realize.
"Anyone who has [a tank] water heater has a ready supply of water on hand," Jones said. "You can hook up a hose or a bucket to the spigot."
Jones cautioned that in order to draw water from a water heater tank, you'll first need to turn off the water supply to your house from the street, to prevent contamination from broken water lines. Then, you'll need to turn on a faucet, to release water pressure from the home's pipes.
Ultimately, for a couple hundred dollars, the Quake Coach says she provides families a playbook -- a custom game plan, in writing, that's ready to go for the next earthquake.
"If you take the time to make some plans and prepare, it will give you peace of mind," Jones said.
Are You Earthquake Ready?
Jones offers a number of free resources on her website, QuakeReadiness.com. She also has these tips for Bay Area families:
- Keep essentials near your bed. A pair of shoes, a flashlight, and a backup phone charger might be all you have time to grab before getting to safety. She also recommends a whistle, so you can get the attention of rescuers if you are trapped.
- Don't stand in a doorway. Jones dispels this myth of standing in an open doorway during an earthquake, because the door itself can swing and slam shut, possibly breaking bones in your hands.
- Keep emergency contacts' phone numbers written down, in your wallet. If your phone is dead, you may not be able to remember the phone numbers of friends and loved ones.
- Stay off your phone, and stay where you are. Phone networks will be flooded with calls immediately after a major quake, so you likely won't be able to get through anyway. Instead, send a brief text message to an emergency contact who lives outside the Bay Area. Meantime, remain where you are, if it's safe to do so, and await instructions from authorities.
- Download and use the Temblor app. It's free, and offers lots of helpful data to determine earthquake risk at your precise location.
- Consider taking a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training course. Many local and county fire departments, police departments, and sheriff's offices offer these free courses on preparing for and responding to a catastrophe. You can learn more at Ready.gov.