Structural Damage and Debris

Damage to a home or business from an earthquake can be obvious or hidden, so be aware of possible structural, electrical, or gas-leak hazards. If you have left the area where the damage from a disaster occurred, before returning to your home or business, be sure that local officials have declared that it is safe to enter your community. 

A system has evolved over the years called the Rapid Evaluation Safety Assessment that public officials may use as a standard method for evaluating the extent of building damage received during an earthquake. If this system is used in your area, the posting system consists of three levels of color-coded placards:

  • Inspected Green The building appears to be safe for lawful occupancy and use.

  • Limited Entry (Restricted Use) Yellow some type of restricted use is appropriate for the building, and control of this restriction is given to the building owner or manager.

  • Unsafe Red the building is quite damaged and entry is not allowed. Any exception for entry is controlled by the building jurisdiction, not the owner or manager.

Before entering your home or business, be sure to check with local officials to determine whether the system is in use and whether your home or business has been or will be inspected. 

If the system is not in place, look outside for damaged power lines, gas lines, foundation cracks, and other exterior damage. If power lines are down outside your home, do not step in puddles or standing water. Approach entrances carefully. Parts of your home may be collapsed or damaged. See if porch roofs and overhangs have all their supports. Try to look inside to check the ceiling and floor for signs of sagging. Look for collapse or partial collapse of the building. Notice if the building or, more likely, a building story, is leaning. If the leaning story has structural walls, they will necessarily be deformed and show distress in some way, which is called racking of the walls

Inspect for falling hazards. Chimneys in wood-frame dwellings and parapets in unreinforced masonry bearing wall buildings are the most common. Look for ground displacement under or adjacent to the building.

Avoid inspecting your home or business in the dark, unless absolutely necessary, and if you must, use a flashlight rather than a candle or torch to avoid the risk of fire or explosion. 

In general, if you suspect any damage to your home, shut off electrical power, natural gas, and propane tanks to avoid fire, electrocution, or explosions, and do not enter until you are assured it is safe to do so. Once you have made a preliminary inspection and there is no immediate danger, be sure to ultimately contact a trained professional, such as a civil or structural engineer, who will be prepared to make a comprehensive investigation of the space and identify areas in need of repair. You may also contact your local city or county building inspector for information on structural safety codes and standards.

Here is a useful resource to recognize and address these kinds of hazards:

Technical resources for the IH include the following: