Matt Springer has been giving presentations around San Francisco about home earthquake preparedness since 2008 (for more information about the presentation, go to his earthquake preparedness website). This Quaketips blog is devoted to posts ranging from technical "how-to" articles to more philosophical "should-you" topics. New articles will be posted at most about once a month, so people who subscribe won't be subjected to lots of e-mail.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Do I really have to stick down EVERYTHING? What about my TV remote?

When I give talks about earthquake precautions and I mention the concept of sticking down loose objects, I sometimes wonder if people are picturing a home in which absolutely nothing is moveable, with TV remotes, dinner plates, pencils, cats, you name it—all stuck down to surfaces.  Well, that’s probably the safest set-up for earthquake preparedness but it would not be very fun.

I confess: if I want to pick up my cordless telephone, I can!  The stapler and other odds and ends on my desk, the water filter jug on our kitchen counter, my electric razor on the dresser top; they are all perfectly usable.  And our little dog wanders around unimpeded. 

It comes down to a concept that I’ve mentioned in this blog several times before: these precautions are a matter of playing the odds.  There’s no such thing as perfect preparation, so we try to reduce the chances of problems as much as we possibly can within the confines of financial ability, schedule time, and of course, the need for a functional household. 

So for example, sitting on my desk at home are a bunch of loose items: stapler, wireless router, cordless phone handset, electric pencil sharpener, and even a few loose notebooks; but it also has some small but dense decorative knick-knacks that are stuck down with quake putty and quake gel, and the printers and computer monitor are attached to their desktops and cabinet top with buckles and straps.  Ironically, my laptop, the thing on the desk about which I’d probably care about the most, is not attached to anything except a couple of cables, because of course, laptops need to be mobile.  Fortunately, the pull-out keyboard tray on which my laptop lives has a small lip around its edge that would probably limit the computer’s ability to slide off.

In the kitchen, we have lots of knives, too many good quality knives to be shoved in a drawer, and I’ve never quite trusted those wall-mounted magnetic knife-holding strips from an earthquake safety standpoint.  The knives are in knife blocks, and the knife blocks themselves are stuck down to the counter, initially with quake putty and more recently with double-sided Velcro squares.  Sure, it’s conceivable that the knives could fly out of the knife blocks, but in order to do that, they’d have to be shaken out at the perfect 45 degree angle to fly up and out of their slots.  I think it is pretty unlikely.  However, if any budding entrepreneurs out there want to invent an earthquake-safe knife block with easy-to-use mechanisms to prevent knives from flying out of their slots, go for it!

There are a few unavoidably loose items on surfaces in the kitchen, like the electric mixer and the food processor, although the processor blades are stored safely in the cupboard.  Our drip coffee maker is on the counter; my wife pointed out to me at one point that the glass carafe that I stored right on the coffee maker burner would be the first thing to fly off and shatter into dog-unfriendly glass shards, so now we keep the carafe in the cupboard above the coffee maker.  I could not stick down the salt shaker or pepper grinder without making them absolutely useless, and I did not stick down the sugar container but we did replace our old glass sugar container with a plastic one.  The vitamin pill bottles will certainly have fallen down, but will still be closed.  Our Brita water filter pitcher gets picked up each time we pour water out of it, so we’ll just have to deal with some water on the floor.

I admit that we take chances with flower vases.  If we have flowers on the dining room table for a few days, the vase tends to get shoved around depending on what else is on the table, so it just doesn’t make sense to stick it down.  Similarly, small potted plants that sit in water drip trays are not straightforward to stick down, so I got rid of the jade plant that easily dropped leaves that I knew were toxic to dogs.  But most of the decorative objects that never get moved are stuck down with quake putty, such as these four objects in the photos.

Are you getting the idea?

So what would our showcase-level wonderful example of a prepared home look like after a major earthquake?  Well, there would be stuff all over the floor!  But for the most part, it would not have broken and would not pose any hazards to us or even to the little dog even if home alone during the quake.  The TV remote would be on the floor, so perhaps we’d return home to see the little dog watching TV while happily shredding the napkins that will be everywhere, lapping up the water from the toppled water filter pitcher, and generally oblivious to the fact that the other 95% of the large and small objects in the home were in the same place they’d always been.


  1. a glowing flashlight and earthquake strapping a water heater are always good ideas

  2. Couldn't agree more! Although the strapping down of a water heater is more in the category of bracing furniture, like bracing tall bookshelves and file cabinets. In this post, I'm mostly referring to sticking down loose smaller objects with quake putty and gel.

    Having a safety light plugged into your outlet is something that I recommend; the type that is off as long as there is power, but if the power goes out (or you unplug it), the light turns on. You can then see your way around a dark room, and use the unplugged light as a flashlight for a while as well if desired.

    These and other concepts are discussed at my main earthquake preparedness website,


COMMENT POLICY: Comments on blog posts can be very useful, raising issues and adding helpful information. However, some people attempt to post generic comments with embedded links to irrelevant websites. Due to this comment spam, all submitted comments will be verified by me first so there will probably be a delay before legitimate comments get posted. If your comment is taking a while to show up, it probably just means that I have not checked my e-mail yet. NOTE THAT COMMENTS THAT ARE ACTUALLY ADVERTISEMENTS WILL NOT BE POSTED.