Why Earthquake Preparations Are So Important

Until Northridge, I was teased a lot about harping on earthquake preparation. To be honest, it seems logical to me; if you know a disaster is possible, preparing is the intelligent thing to do. I came up with an idea about why people ignore preparation messages and tease those who are insistent. If you don’t think about it, maybe it won’t happen.

I thought I was prepared for Northridge, but there were many things I hadn’t thought of. I’m sure that will be the same for any subsequent disasters, you really can’t think of everything. However, there are some very important things that people should think of, even if earthquakes aren’t the most likely disaster in your neck of the woods. If you can, apply what I write to whatever local dangers exist.

What we did right

Plumber’s tape: It’s a five minute job and probably costs about $5. Simple, really. Get that metal plumbers tape and put two straps around your water heater and attach it to a stud in the garage. Why is it important? First, that heater can represent clean, potable water. That could be at a premium if the disaster interrupts water supplies.

Second, it represents one hazard you don’t have to worry about. The heater falling over could cause a gas leak, damage whatever is dampened by a leak and injure anyone standing near enough to it. In an earthquake those are good points. Third, it will save you a lot of money. In our neighborhood, three households out of sixty-five strapped the water heater down. We paid $10 for new flex lines. The other sixty-two? Paid over $100 for new water heaters.

Have a plan: We all had assignments. Northridge happened at night, and the instructions were to pull blankets up over their heads and wait in bed until we got them. That was a good plan, as a window broke and one of the beds had glass on it. Nothing heavy was near enough to land on the kids, so that, too was a good plan.

When we got down the stairs, I went out the front; my job was to turn off the water. That was good for two reasons. Most important, it prevented tainted water from broken mains from getting into the house. Second, it stopped the shower in the garage where the flex lines had sheered. My husband went out the back and shut off the gas. He also shut off a neighbor’s gas, but the story of that will have to be in another bullet point.

Have Lights Available: You would have deemed a shrew if you’d heard how I harped on putting flashlights back *exactly* where they were found. Kids, husband, didn’t matter. That flashlight was where it would be needed. The fussing and teasing stopped a few seconds after the ground stopped moving.

Unlike most of the households in our neighborhood, we were able to immediately, from the bed, put our hands on more than one working flashlight. Instinct had us try the electric lights, but with a shock that big, it was little more than that. Having working flashlights meant that we could dress, avoid broken glass and obstacles, gather the kids and get out of the house unhurt. It would be hard to feel more grateful for that little point of light than after an earthquake.

There is one other reason for having flashlights available. Remember the story I mentioned? The neighbor whose gas we turned off came out to check her water with a lit candle. Can you imagine what that might have looked like? I still shudder.

What we did wrong

Wrong may be too strong a word in some places, but there were definitely things we could have done to improve; and we’ve tried. It’s probably a good idea to make a list as things happen, but you may be too busy. Here’s what we learned.

Central location: Our first earthquake kit was stored outside, in a clean trash can and well labeled. Bad plan; most of the contents were stolen. Therefore, the second kit was stored inside. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough space in one place for everything, so it was spread throughout the house. *Really* bad idea.

If we had to store inside again, I’d put it near the front door and in a closet that would probably withstand any shock that would have us able to get out of the house easily. Another idea is a storage shed, though you’ll have to watch that carefully, because there are a lot of things that critters might want and try to take.radio strap

More fluids: We had enough water, but other fluids were lacking. Soda, shelf stable milk and other beverages will help keep dehydration (and boredom from the same lack of taste) away. Think about what your family likes and see if you can store a little of the favorites. They will be a comfort.

Television: This is a want, not a need. It was very hard to translate mentally what the radio reporters were saying. It would have helped to be able to see it, at least for me. There are battery operated televisions, so if you are visually oriented, it might be something to consider.

Stuff to do: Granting that an earthquake is going to give you a *lot* to do, but not all of it is safe to do in the hours right after a big shock. Children have it worse; most of what will need done is either to heavy or to dangerous. Continued aftershocks will cause stress and fright for the whole family.

We had a few things for the kids to do, but not nearly enough, and none for the adults. You don’t have to spend a fortune, but a few unseen DVDs, some new toys, books and other things geared to your family will be very useful in the hours, days and even possibly weeks after a major quake.

Medical stuff: We didn’t have extra of any prescriptions, no extra pairs of glasses and only a backpacker’s first aid kit. This was before I became a Master Herbalist, and that has influenced what I store now. It might surprise you that not all of the new additions are herbal in nature.

There are a few ways of preparing the right medical supplies for your family. By all means talk to your doctor and/or the kids’ pediatrician. Go to a store that caters to backpackers…you may be without medical help for several days, and backpackers are often in the same predicament.

Talk to a qualified herbal practitioner, too. I can give you generics geared for hundreds of readers, but only a conversation between us will allow me to give more individual advice. The age of your family members, medical conditions and several other factors have to be taken into account.

Better food: If you don’t want to eat it on a regular basis, you’re not going to want to eat it after a disaster. In fact, it’ll be worse. Look for foods that you can store in your kit that aren’t perishable. If you have an RV or travel trailer, it’ll make it easier but it can be done without. It just takes time. Try to make sure the foods are as healthy as possible. Sodium and fat still cause problems, and if there are any underlying health problems it could be worse.

Shelter: We didn’t even own a tent when Northridge hit. That was not a good thing; we didn’t sleep for two or three nights running. While aftershocks might have awakened us, panic would probably have been easier to handle if we weren’t inside.

Earthquakes cannot yet be predicted, but being ready for them will help. When we have an earthquake, checking your kit is not a bad idea. You may need to rotate out food or batteries. You may want to add or change things in it, but being aware is important to not just survival, but surviving well.



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