Article: Studio Earthquake Preparedness

County: All

Topic: Emergency Preparedness & Assistance


Earthquake preparedness is a matter of common sense and taking a few actions based upon simple physics. The hazards in a studio may involve materials that can be toxic, flammable, or otherwise hazardous in their own right. Such materials may be heavy enough to create a hazard by falling. Valuable artwork and equipment can be damaged or cause destruction that is often very costly to replace and repair. Such damage may represent a loss of a large amount of effort and artistic expression.


  • Address Human Safety: The primary concern should be the protection of life and limb. No matter how valuable objects may be, hazards to human safety must be addressed first.
  • Identify large or heavy objects that could fall on people or could block access to the exit from the building.
  • Look for large objects on upper shelves, stacks of lumber, or sets of shelving that are not secured to walls. Damage in earthquakes is caused in three basic ways – almost all damage can be attributed to objects tipping over, objects colliding into other objects or surfaces and objects falling off of shelves, tables, pedestals, etc.
  • Don’t Procrastinate: Measures taken to reduce risk need not be complex or expensive; small measures can make a huge difference. Securing a set of shelves with a couple of screws fastened to a wall is a great example. This will secure the shelves from tipping and thus make objects less likely to fall off the shelves and cause harm to a person, other objects, or itself.
  • Be Practical: Measures must be easy to use and appropriate to the function of each studio. Any prevention method that is awkward or inconvenient will soon be abandoned, and thus become a waste of energy and money. Will artwork be stored for a long time, or will it be moved periodically? (Short term storage should be limited; securing artwork in the safest manner often requires long-term measures that are not as easy to de-install.)

    Protect Against Tipping and Tripping Hazards:

  • Secure unstable items to more stable ones such as walls, pillars, or mounts, thus limiting motion.
  • Lower the center of gravity by placing heavier items on lower shelves.
  • Lay tall things on their sides.
  • Place weights inside vessels (so they act like a child's punching clown).
  • Fasten items to a base that has a larger footprint and is thus harder to tip.
  • Enclose items so they are contained in a box or other structure with a wider footprint and thus a lower center of gravity.
  • Allow items to slide on the surface where they are sitting as long as they aren't able to slide and fall off.
  • Anchor small objects such as glass and glazed ceramics with dental wax, "quake" wax or silicone (these items can be purchased at most art supply stores.) This is a very effective technique, especially when coupled with the addition of weight so this will lower the center of gravity. Use three to four small balls of wax on the bottom of object. Place object on substrate (shelf or pedestal) with a slight twist. Remove in same fashion to shear wax layer. Do not use on low fire ceramics as wax can pull pieces from poorly vitrified ceramics as well as pulling gold leaf decoration from porcelain. Wax can also migrate into unfinished surfaces.
  • Prevent Against Collision Hazards:

  • Increase bottom friction and lower center of gravity.
  • Place padding or separators between objects. On a set of shelving that has been secured against tipping, a grouping of objects such as ceramics or glass are best placed close together with foam, cardboard, or even folded newspaper between them to allow minimum movement.
  • Prevent Against Falling Hazards:

  • Limit the availability of edges by applying a lip to a surface or stretching a light rope or bungee across the opening of a set of shelves to limit the ability of objects to fall off the shelves.
  • With 2D work hung on walls, secure the lower edge so that the panel cannot flap and stress the hanging attachments. "Secure-T" security fasteners will retain lower edge best, but rubberized poster adhesive putty will secure bottoms fairly well. (This is not an archival product so keep off actual art surfaces.)
  • Upper hanging hardware must be well secured.
  • For pedestals anchor objects with wax or a mount.

    Hazardous Materials:

  • All flammables should be in a steel flammables cabinet approved by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) that is secured to a wall. The greatest concern is with breakage and spillage, especially of those materials in use at any given time.
  • Equip all storage cabinets with doors that latch.
  • Use boxes or plastic tubs or containers to sequester and contain the spillable contents.
  • Use a wheeled cart with tray type shelves to help contain any spillage as well as allow limited dislocation.
  • Buy materials in plastic containers, when possible.
  • If you’ve transferred hazardous materials out of their original package, make sure the new package is labeled with its hazardous contents.
  • Gas cylinders for welding or other purposes must be secured to a wall to keep from tipping over. Even sets on two wheeled welding carts must be secured. Caution: Gas cylinders are under high-pressure so if damaged they can explode or become a flying projectile. When purchasing a gas cylinder, please consult with sales staff regarding tank safety precautions.
  • Equipment and Tools:

  • Lumber and awkward sized materials should be secured with eyebolts into wall studs at strategic intervals and nylon rope to snug up stacks.
  • Build storage racks to enclose and store materials. These racks must be well built and secured to a wall or pillar.
  • Paintings and Panels should be secured with the same techniques as above.
  • Glass, ceramics and fragile Items should be placed on foam-lined shelves with separators or foam cavities to isolate objects from one another.
  • "Chock" rounded objects with foam to keep them from rolling.
  • Store objects in boxes with padding and separators.
  • Large tools:

  • Secure to walls or pillars.
  • Lower the center of gravity with weight at the bottom.
  • Fasten base to larger footprint of plywood.
  • Fasten base to floor.
  • Place tool on mobile base to allow limited dislocation.
  • Small tools:

  • Store in cabinets with latching doors.
  • Put neoprene or rubber compounds on underside of toolboxes to increase friction.
  • Use racking system to organize and secure tools in convenient locations.