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Ruus Elementary School third-graders practice their "duck, cover and hold" on during an earthquake safety drill, Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012, in Hayward, Calif. (D. Ross Cameron/Staff)

On Thursday we're asking people to "Drop, Cover and Hold On!" That's right, it's the Great California ShakeOut, an annual safety drill that prepares people to survive and recover quickly from big earthquakes -- wherever they live, work or travel. It's about preparedness and safety, and if you know me, you know I'm all about earthquake safety.

As a certified structural engineer in California, you could say I've spent my whole life "studying sturdy." More than 20 years ago, I had the opportunity to study the effects of the Loma Prieta earthquake. My goal: to understand how the Bay Area, and areas prone to earthquakes throughout California, could better survive the next "big one."

Since then, a new focus on seismic retrofitting has spread throughout the world. High-rise buildings are now safer, newer houses are designed to survive better, and new materials have been developed that will help protect life and property in the event of a quake. We've even made the Bay Bridge more resilient. But there's still plenty to be done here in earthquake-prone California to help decrease the physical and financial damage of earthquakes on single-family residential houses.

And here's some good news. The California Residential Mitigation Program is launching the Earthquake Brace and Bolt: Funds to strengthen your foundation pilot program in the Rockridge and Temescal neighborhoods of Oakland that could provide up to $3,000 to prequalified homeowners to make simple earthquake retrofits.

Why Brace and Bolt? Many houses built before 1950 have a short wood-framed wall called a "cripple wall" between the foundation and the main floor that if strengthened may help avoid collapse brought on by an earthquake.

Bracing a cripple wall with plywood can strengthen it. And adding bolts to improve the connections between the wooden framing of a house and its concrete foundation may help to keep the house from sliding off its foundation during a quake.

Two simple steps -- to brace and to bolt -- can go a long way toward securing your house and protecting your family. You can't put a price on that, or on the peace of mind you'll find knowing that you've taken the proper steps to help protect the most important parts of your life.

To test our new program before it goes statewide, we've selected the Rockridge/Temescal area in Oakland (and one neighborhood in Southern California) as a pilot market. Rockridge/Temescal has a large number of houses with raised foundations and small cripple walls that would benefit from these simple retrofits.

If you are a homeowner in the Rockridge or Temescal neighborhoods (ZIP codes 94618 or 94609), please visit our website at EarthquakeBraceBolt.com to find out if your house might qualify for our program. If you do not have Internet access, call our office at 877-232-4300 and speak to our staff to find out if your house may qualify.

Ten houses will be randomly selected from a pool of homeowners who register qualified houses for the program. Even if you are not selected for this initial program, we encourage you to sign up for program updates, such as notification when the program launches statewide, and other earthquake preparedness information.

The goal is to help make as many houses in California as earthquake-ready as possible, protecting both property and lives. This pilot program is an important step toward reaching that goal. So whether you personally have a house remodel project that could benefit, know someone considering a retrofit, or just want your neighbors to know this program is available, please help us get the word out about Earthquake Brace and Bolt.

Open registration lasts through Oct. 30. Apply now.

Janiele Maffei is a graduate of UC Berkeley, where she obtained her bachelor's degree in architecture and a master's in civil engineering. Maffei is a registered structural engineer -- one of the first women to be certified in California -- who has worked in the earthquake engineering industry for more than 30 years.