Out here in earthquake country, we never know when the next big one is going to strike, so we take precautions. We stock up on emergency water and food supplies and and devise contingency plans. We create emergency lists, squirrel away batteries and flashlights, blankets, medication, cash, and radios.
To help protect what might be our largest investment, we fasten our homes to their foundations, epoxy cripple wall cracks, construct shear walls, strap water heaters, and purchase earthquake insurance. We attach a dedicated wrench to the shut-off valve for the gas supply, mentally calculate the distances from the nearest fire station and to the closest hospital, and predict projectile paths for large and heavy pieces of furniture.
The point of these exercises is to protect ourselves in the event of a local as well as infrastructural breakdown. We fear destruction of our homes, contamination of the water supply, interruption of electric power, food shortages, financial calamity, bridge and road failure, gas rationing. This area has certainly seen its share of all of the above over the years, and woe to us should they someday occur en masse.
Every precaution comes at a cost, however, whether measured in financial, convenience, functional, or cosmetic terms. And these can in sum be so prohibitive for many people that action is delayed or avoided.
In my case, however improbably, a temblor has already struck, shaking me to my foundation. It was a warning, a wake-up call, a shock. But the damage was limited in scope, and it is possible that aggressive but localized demolition removed all compromised areas.
Remaining vigilant, I watch for signs of instability: cracks forming in walls, doors that no longer close, buckling floors. I still have a fundamental choice: I can take my chances and hope the remaining structure is sound, or I can be proactive and take concrete steps to foolproof the foundation.
Unfortunately, even the most knowledgeable and experienced contractors cannot foresee which repairs are the most beneficial for any particular building. It is also possible that any overhaul can create sizable new problems. And yet, home inspectors can also not ignore the strong possibility of an insidious, cumulative, and serious defect, perhaps from corroding plumbing, loosened wiring, or weakened framing.
Therefore, I wholeheartedly choose an oncologic retrofit: giving myself the best chance at riding out more seismic activity, whether mere aftershocks or the next big one, and keeping in mind that, unlike in the earthquake paradigm, there is no rebuild with cancer.
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