Saturday, January 19, 2019

Preparing for the Big One

Thursday, January 17, was the 25th anniversary of the 1994 Northridge Earthquake, a magnitude 6.7 earthquake, which caused major damage in the Los Angeles area.  It took place at 4:30 a.m. and I remember being jolted awake by it.  My daughter was 10 months old, and, fortunately, sleeping in her crib which was in my room at the time.  I remember grabbing her and holding her tight to me, while I made my way to my mother's room, adjoining mine, to check on her.  Then, we huddled in the doorway, with the baby (who slept right through it all!).  Ideally, we should have taken cover under a sturdy table, but the only table big enough for that was the dining table, and it was several feet away, down the hallway.

It was still dark at that hour and the power had gone off, so we stayed in the dark, listening to the rattling of the whole house as it shook, cabinet doors opening and things falling from the kitchen cabinets and the bookshelves, etc.  Later, when there was enough day light to check, I saw that the kitchen counters and floor were covered with broken glass and china, and a fair amount of my collection of blue and white china had broken.  But, much to my gratitude, my house suffered no structural damage.

A short time after the shaking stopped, my neighbors on either side came to check on me, to see if we were alright.  One of them checked my gas connections, to see if there were any gas leaks; fortunately, there weren't.  Power was restored, later that same day, and I was very grateful for that, too, as it meant I didn't lose the contents of my fridge and freezer.  My house was a few miles from the epicenter, so I managed to get through the earthquake relatively unscathed.  One of my cousins lived closer to the epicenter and her house suffered quite a bit of damage, as did one of my aunts.  Another aunt had to evacuate her apartment building.

We haven't had such a major earthquake since then, but there have been several smaller quakes which are constant reminders that I live in earthquake country!  Being prepared for another major one is always a priority.  The 25th anniversary of the Northridge earthquake is a good reminder to check my preparations for another major one, if not the "Big One" on the San Andreas Faultline, which has had a major earthquake with some regularity (every 130-180) years, but is "over due" for the next big one! 

I try to be prepared for a major earthquake, one that might disrupt services.  Power, natural gas, water, and sewer lines will be damaged during such an earthquake.  With natural gas leaks, active flames, such as candles, open fires, etc. are not advisable, as they increase the risk of fires.  Without electricity, a lot of modern day life as we know it will come to a halt.  Not only won't there be lights to illuminate our homes, there won't be power to operate our refrigerators and freezers, never mind the other appliances, gas stations will not operate (I don't think there is a single manually operated gas pump, anymore), bank ATMs won't work, credit card machines won't work.  If cell phone towers topple, our cell phones won't work.  If such an earthquake damages roads and other infrastructure, regular deliveries of supplies, such as groceries, can't be made.

We are advised to keep a minimum of three days' supplies of water for drinking (at the rate of 1 gallon per day per person, plus additional for pets) and food, prescription medications, pet supplies, etc.  But, beyond the minimum, we should keep enough items on hand for several weeks, if not months, because of all the damage such an earthquake could cause. 

Assuming we are still alive, relatively unhurt, and our homes are still standing or have suffered only some damage, and we have a place to stay, (yes, I know, a lot of assumptions!), are we sufficiently prepared to take care of ourselves until services are restored, repairs are made, and normal life resumes?  What are the things we need to survive for several weeks, or one month, without electricity to illuminate our homes and run our appliances, without natural gas to heat our homes, without running water for drinking, cooking, washing, flushing toilets, etc., without sewers to dispose of our waste, without sanitation services to pick up our trash, etc.?  Do we have enough cash on hand to buy essentials if we have no access to an ATM or the credit card machines don't work? 

There are many earthquake preparation lists online, etc., that list all the things one ought to have on hand to be prepared.  Going by those lists, I fear I am no where close to being prepared!  I do have earthquake insurance.  I sleep with a flash light (torch) under my pillow and keep a hard hat, nearby, as well.  I keep my purse with all my prescription medications near my bedside, so I can grab it and run, if I have to.  I keep a pair of walking shoes by the bed, as well, to protect my feet when stepping on broken glass, etc.

I also keep several items of food on hand (canned, dried, relatively shelf-stable), several gallons of bottled water for drinking (plus, if my water heater remains intact, I'll have a store of 50 gallons of water there), a first aid kit plus extra bandages, etc., wet wipes for personal hygiene, toilet paper and paper towels, paper plates and bowls, etc. (yes, they'll end up in a landfill, somewhere, eventually, but, when you have no water in which to wash regular plates, they become a necessity), trash bags to be used to line the toilets since there is no sewer service or water to flush the toilets - the bags will be tied up and buried in the yard until sanitation services resume.  I also kept the portable toilet my mother was given after her hip surgery; she used it over the regular toilet as it had a higher seat, but, it has a removable bucket which enabled it to be used in her room, if she couldn't walk to the bathroom.  It is stored in the garage, as part of my earthquake preparations, to be used in case the toilet in the house is damaged and can't be used.

I keep the car gas tank at least half full, for most part (occasionally, I have allowed it to go down to one quarter tank).  If the power goes off and the gas pumps don't work, I will still have enough gas to get to a hospital, shelter, or some other place, if I have to (assuming the garage doesn't fall on the car, and the roads are passable!)

Of course, if an earthquake happens when I am away from home, then, all my preparations won't be of much use, will it? When I was working, we were each given a portable pack of earthquake supplies, containing pouches of water, some energy bars type of food, a foil thermal blanket, etc. that we kept at our desks.  But I really don't have a similar package in my car.  That is something to think about - it won't keep long inside the car, especially during our hot summers.  But, perhaps, it might be something I can train myself to put in the car and take out, each and every time I drive?  I do keep a couple of granola bars in my purse at all times, and I generally remember to take a bottle of water with me.

We are also advised to have an out-of-state emergency contact person - the thought is, being out of state, this person might not be affected by the earthquake, so family members can contact that person to let them know that they are safe and that person can relay the information.  Apparently, sometimes, one can call out of state, even if phone lines are not working within the state.  Whether this is true with cell phones, or if it was only when one had landlines, I don't know.  At one time, my half-brother was my out of state contact person, but he died a little over a year ago.  I shall ask my cousin in Florida if he would mind being my out of state emergency contact person and give his phone number to my daughter. 

It's a lot to think about, isn't it?  Do you live in earthquake country, too?  If so, do you prepare for a major earthquake?  Or, if you live somewhere with frequent tornadoes, what sort of preparations do you make?  Are you prepared for a fire?  Or a flood?  What are other emergencies one might prepare for? 


  1. Thankfully, this is not something I have to consider as I don't live in an earthquake zone. It's a scary thought and I suppose it is an aspect of life that you always need to pay attention to. Do you feel that the threat is always in the back of your mind?

    1. Eileen, I am glad you don't have to worry about earthquakes. In this country, it seems that, no matter where one lives, there's always some natural phenomena to think about - earthquakes (mostly along the west coast), tornadoes (mostly the mid-states), hurricanes (mostly along the gulf and east coast), snow storms (upper mid-west and north east, plus mountains). The one "good" thing about the weather-related conditions is, there is a fair amount of early warning, as weather conditions can be forecasted. With earthquakes, there is no forecasting. It's already happening when you learn about it!

      My daughter is in Berkeley, which sits right on top of the Hayward Fault. There were two small earthquakes (3.4 and 3.5), last week! They took place very early in the morning and, both times, my daughter slept through them!

      Yes, the threat is always there at the back of my mind. I mean, life goes on as usual, but...I am always aware that there is a possibility of a major earthquake.

  2. This is a timely reminder. This month also marks 21 years since the great ice storm of 1998 for us. It was described as the most devastating, but least ferocious, Canadian natural disaster. It came quietly in the night but left some in the cold and darkness for weeks and months. Thirty-five people died and many more were injured. Livestock were killed under the weight of collapsing barns. It was the largest deployment of the Canadian military since the Korean War. And I think I have mentioned this before, it was the second time in my life that my area was declared a National Emergency. The first time was also weather related (snow storm) Then there are several stories of living through shorter inconveniences due to the snow, but not actually National Emergencies. Students can't get home from school, or people are stuck at work and cannot leave their positions because all transportation is down. Even snow plows have been ordered off the road. Which is why we have to have our cars equipped with emergency supplies in winter.

    Like I said, this is very timely. I am not prepared and I need to be thinking about this now very seriously.

    1. Susan, I'm glad the post was a timely reminder for you to think about and prepare for a weather-related emergency that is very applicable to you. How will you manage for food if you can't get to the stores? I know you stocked up on some canned fish and meat, earlier, but do you have enough? How will you heat your home if the power is out? How will you cook your food? Do you have enough water stored (although, I suppose, one could melt some of the snow and ice, if needed).

  3. That's a lot to consider. I feel I'm massively unprepared for some kind of emergency and although, thankfully, we are unlikely to experience an earthquake here, there is always a risk of flooding or a power cut.
    Thank you, Bless. You've made me realise I should really make plans to put some emergency provisions aside and I do hope you dont have to use your own. X

    1. Thank you, Jules! I, too, hope I don't have to use my earthquake supplies! But, it's good to know that I have something on hand, just in case. I'm glad that you, too, will plan to make some emergency provisions to have on hand, just in case. Hopefully, it won't be needed, but, good to know you have some emergency food and water on hand.

  4. It must have been very frightening. Luckily there are no earthquakes here, but there are hurricanes. It a big problem here and most big insurance companies have stopped insuring homes in this state.
    I have several hurricane shutters, but not enough to cover all the windows. I stock up things like food and batteries just before the hurricane season starts.

    A couple of years ago I bought a small portable solar powered light. It came handy where there was a 3 day power cut.

    1. Yes, you have the threat of hurricanes, don't you? I hope you are able to get home insurance, Nil. Oh, I like the sound of that portable solar powered light! I must look for one. Batteries are another item I need to restock - I've used most of what I have on hand.


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