Even in quake-prone regions like the San Francisco Peninsula — where Stein lives, three miles from the San Andreas fault — buildings end up with fundamental vulnerabilities that require more expensive fixes. If you live near a fault, make sure your house is fastened to its foundation. Buildings tend to be cube-shaped, and cubes, Stein says, ‘‘have no structural integrity’’: When jolted, they collapse into parallelograms. Strengthen your cube (or press your landlord to do so) with materials like crisscrossing cables or plywood bracing.
Because our homes generally aren’t built to handle shaking, Stein stores a crowbar under his bed in case he needs to jimmy a damaged door. He keeps extra propane for cooking and a solar-powered cellphone charger. His surgical mask, work gloves and shovel are always accessible (‘‘be ready to rescue someone’’); three-gallon bottles of distilled water are stored in his garage. Everyone in his family has an orange emergency whistle.