Are you prepared for the big one?
I am not a California native. I came to California in 1986 for my father’s career. We moved to Arcadia in the middle of one of the hottest summers on record. Coming from Wisconsin, we were not prepared for the heat. Nor, would I learn, were we prepared for earthquakes. I still remember very vividly where I was when the 1987 5.9 Whittier Narrows earthquake hit. I was getting ready for school… out of nowhere, dishes were flying out of cabinets and the floor was seemingly gone beneath my feet. My mother grabbed my sister and I and we all ran outside. I wish I could find words to appropriately explain what I saw…the earth was flipping, side-to-side. Earthquake, you say, mom? What’s that? I was only 7 at the time, and coming from the other side of the country, we never spoke of such things. Tornados? All the time. Needless to say, we were ill prepared – no extra water or canned food on hand, no extra clothing, batteries, blankets…nada. It was a very serious quake, with several deaths and many homes destroyed.
Fast forward 7 years, we are living near Northridge, CA. We must have had a knack to follow where the next big earthquake would be. My mother and I were living alone in a condo, on top of a subterranean parking garage. I was awoken at 4:31 am by being physically thrown out of my bed onto the floor. I looked up and saw a huge free-standing mirror about to crash over me…instinct told me to roll under my bed while the mirror shattered where I had just lain. The intense noise, not just the shaking, is what was so terrifying about this quake – I screamed the entire time, as did my mother, neither of us hearing anything from the other. As we got our bearings and cautiously went downstairs, we had no idea what had happened. How big was that? Is there power anywhere (not here, obviously)? As we scrambled in the dark, I am still thankful that my mom had just recently decided it was time for an ‘earthquake kit.’ We had water, food, blankets, a flashlight, radio and extra batteries. We sat in our doorway for probably close to 3 hours, listening to the battery-powered radio in the dark, trying to find out how bad the quake was, getting tossed over and over with aftershocks. We stayed in the house for over a week with no power or clean water, until the fire department finally made its way to us. To let us know that we couldn’t stay. While the Northridge quake was a 6.7, the ground acceleration of that quake was one of the highest ever recorded in an urban area, making it feel more like a quake in the 7.5 range.
Looking back on both quakes, I am so thankful that we were more prepared for the second quake. Nothing can prepare you, really, for the disorienting feeling of having the earth beneath you come to life, and rock your senses silly. After this most recent La Habra quake, we are reminded yet again that we live in ‘earthquake country’ and most of us are embarrassingly unprepared for the aftermath of a good shake.
Here are some tips for an effective earthquake kit. Some things to remember: you may not have access to water, electricity or emergency services for a few days, if not more.
1. Water. The single most important item you’ll need. Another option: steri pen. Will sterilize water from any source. You’ll need at least one gallon per day per person in your house.
2. Food – canned food (don’t forget an opener), boxed food that has a long shelf life. Pastas, canned tuna, canned vegetables, etcetera. Camping food is another good option.
3. Camp stove and fuel, along with utensils.
4. Whistle, in case of need for rescuers.
5. Extra set of clothing & shoes.
6. Emergency cash, in small denominations
7. Tool kit (to turn off gas/water)
8. Copies of your vital documents.
9. Tarp, plastic bags – in case of rain. Or, if preferred, a tent.
11. Toys – if you have kids
12. Lanterns, flashlights & batteries.
13. Portable radio – don’t think your cell phone will work. You need the good ol’ fashioned antenna radio.
14. Solar panel for charging any items that might still work.
15. Portable power generator. There are solar versions out there as well. Most generators run on gas, and if there is a main break at your local station, no-can-do. There are other personal preference items you can bring, of course, but try to make your kit as accessible as possible. It should be in a waterproof container, easily accessed OUTSIDE. Do not keep it in your garage – you’ll probably not be able to access it if the damage is severe.
Nothing, like I said, will prepare you for the moment a large earthquake hits. The fear and adrenaline are intense and the disorientation is dumbfounding. But, your preparedness for the moments right after a quake can make the comforts of home enough to get you through mother nature’s moody behavior.
To connect with Melissa Sims please email her at Melissa.Sims@TheBoutiqueRE.com