Quake-Proofing Your Home for the 'Big One' : Secure furniture to walls to prevent toppling over, and protect water heater.

Abrams is a Los Angeles free-lance writer

Last month's earthquakes were not-so-subtle reminders that we live in one of the most seismically active areas in the world.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, an earthquake of magnitude 7.5 or 8 on the Richter scale is 60% likely in Southern California within 30 years, causing widespread loss of life and property damage.

Here are a few simple tips on how to make your home a safer place to be if the "Big One" hits.

Securing furniture in your home is one of the most important preventive measures you can take.

Wall units, armoires, dressers, file cabinets, standing clocks, bookshelves and any other upright piece of furniture that looks as if it could topple if pushed, should be anchored to the wall.

The best way to anchor most pieces is with a 4- to 6-inch L-brace positioned so that one leg of the L is screwed to the top or inside of the piece of furniture with two three-quarter-inch screws and the other leg is screwed into the wall stud with two 2-inch screws (use one brace for every 32 inches of furniture width).

The braces and screws as well as an inexpensive stud finder can be found at most hardware stores.

Heavy pictures or pictures hung above a bed should be securely fastened.

Use a 4-inch x three-eighths-inch toggle bolt, which has a butterfly nut on it that opens inside the wall, and a 1-inch flat washer. Slip the washer onto the bolt and thread the butterfly nut on about 1/4 inch.

Make a one-half-inch hole in the wall where the picture hook nail is and insert the toggle far enough for the "wings" of the butterfly nut to open. Begin turning the bolt with a screwdriver until the washer is about one-quarter-inch from the wall surface. Now rehang the picture so the picture wire sits between the fender washer and the wall.

Heavy objects such as candleholders, vases, figurines or other decorative items should never be placed where they could fall and injure someone.

If, however, placement of heavy objects on a high shelf or other place cannot be avoided, reduce the risk of their falling by anchoring them in place with self-adhesive Velcro tape, available from most hardware stores.

Directions for use on the package are very straightforward.

During a strong earthquake, a gas water heater stands a very good chance of toppling, thereby breaking the gas supply line to the unit. To reduce this risk, all water heaters should be strapped to the adjacent walls by wrapping "plumbers tape" (a steel ribbon with perforations, available at all hardware stores) around the tank of the heater and anchoring the loose ends to the wall studs with 2-inch screws or 4-inch nails.

Remember, the water heater is a source of clean water in an emergency. The valve at the bottom opens like a hose bib.

Everyone should know how to shut off the gas main to the house in case of a gas leak. Do not shut the gas unless you do detect a leak--it could take several days after a quake to get it back on.

All gas meters have a shut-off valve in the pipe leading into the meter. The valve has a rectangular tab that is turned with a wrench to shut the gas. Use a 10-inch adjustable wrench to turn the tab. Parallel to the supply pipe is "on", perpendicular to the pipe is "off." It is a good idea to tie the wrench to the meter so it is always there in an emergency.

It is also important to know how to shut off the water. Most homes and apartments have a main water valve located on the front of the building facing the street. It is usually found by following a straight line toward the house from the water meter near the curb. It has a large handle, normally red and white in color that turns clockwise to shut off the water.

Because the valve is subject to corrosion, it is a good idea to turn the handle a couple rotations three times a year to keep it from "freezing."

And, during a quake, according to experts in earthquake safety, it is better to stay inside your home than it is to run outside as deaths and injuries casualties in past quakes have occurred when people running out of buildings were hit by falling debris.

The safest place to be inside the home is under a heavy table or desk or in a doorway away from exterior walls and glass.

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