Presenting the opening keynote address at the National Earthquake Conference this week, Thomas Jordan, director of the Southern California Earthquake Center, painted an alarming picture of the likelihood of a major earthquake in California. “The springs on the San Andreas system have been wound very, very tight,” he stated. “And the southern San Andreas fault, in particular, looks like it’s locked, loaded and ready to go.”
It’s not time to panic. If you live in a modern building, or one-story house, it’s unlikely that your home will collapse during even a major quake. And, thanks to efforts led by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, older buildings and the area’s infrastructure, are being brought up to modern earthquake code, too. But, you should take basic steps to prepare yourself for an earthquake’s aftermath. FEMA provides excellent advice on how to prepare your home and family for such a disaster, and it suggests having supplies on hand to make it through a 72-hour period without help. But, with infrastructure like sewers in the region potentially being taken out of commission for six months, it may also pay to prepare a little more significantly, if only to guarantee your comfort.
Jordan estimates the quake could be as strong as a magnitude 8. Such an event would seriously impact the region. A 2008 report by the U.S. Geological Survey estimated that a 7.8 quake along the San Andreas fault would result in more than 1,800 deaths, 50,000 injuries, and $200 billion or more in damage. The long-term impacts to the region’s infrastructure would be significant, with communication, power, fresh water, and transportation all taking major hits. If you live here, you can, and should, prepare your family to ride out long term inconvenience in relative comfort.
This article isn’t an attempt to scare you, it’s an attempt to show you how easy, and affordable, serious earthquake preparation can be. I live in Los Angeles, and this article is drawn from my own earthquake preparations. Discussing news of Jordan's prediction with two friends earlier this week, they admitted that they didn't have a quake kit of any kind. I explained to them how easy it is to assemble one and well, here you go.
FEMA recommends you stockpile the following supplies, in quantities sufficient to see your household through 72 hours:
- Non-perishable food
- Flashlights, and batteries.
- Water (one gallon per-person, per-day)
- First Aid Kit
- Battery Powered Radio
- Fire Extinguisher
- Hygiene necessities
- Cash, and important documents
- Practical Clothing
- Pet Needs
Stocking up on that stuff is easy to do, and you should definitely start with FEMA’s earthquake preparedness guide. In it are basic, but easily forgotten things, like contact cards, rendezvous planning, and even instructions on how to turn off your gas and electricity. Heck, print out the PDF and store it with your earthquake kit. Now let’s look at the ways you can augment your basic FEMA kit to achieve a longer period of autonomy post-earthquake, and to get you through it in greater comfort. Heck, just being able to avoid long lines at a food or water distribution center makes these purchases worth it.
Water, Lots of Water
Did you know you can buy a 12-pack of 16.9 oz water bottles on Amazon for just $2.48? If you’re a Prime member, delivery is free. My UPS guy has never had a worse day than when I stocked up my supply.
How many people are in your household? Each needs a gallon a day, just to drink. More if you need water for cooking, cleaning, pets, etc. How long do you want to prepare for? I’ve got enough for a month, for four people, plus Wiley. I figure that may be overkill, but I can at least have extra to share, if possible. The FDA considers bottled water to have an indefinite shelf life, despite the voluntary expiration dates printed on the bottles. Store it somewhere cool and dark.
If you’re worried about the space necessary to store and cost associated with other items listed here, just get the extra water.
Shelter, Just In Case
Your home may be destroyed, or damaged just enough that it’s not safe to stay in it. Or fire could spread through parts of the city. In each scenario, it may be nice to have a basic shelter that would get you and your family out of the sun and rain.
If you have camping gear already, great. Store it somewhere that will be accessible post-quake. But even then, you may want to augment it with something that encompasses a larger area. A basic blue tarp and some paracord to hang it, is cheap, portable, and easy to store. It's essential if you don’t already have a tent.
Somewhere to Poop
I don’t remember it word for word, but I had a conversation with Cody Lundin a few years back in which he said that sanitation is the most overlooked thing when people are preparing for stuff like this. They’ll happily waste money stockpiling ammo in case zombies storm their front door, but they forget to set aside something to poop in. Zombies are fictional, bacterial infections are very, very real.
At a minimum, order a box of thick contractor bags, and a five-gallon bucket with a tight-fitting lid. You can throw lime or something on top of that if you want to keep it somewhat stink-free between uses, and you can even get a seat for the top.
You’ll also want industrial qualities of hand sanitizer, baby wipes and, just for the heck of it, some nitrile gloves and air filter masks too. Just in case you have to spend time dealing with anything gross.
Some Really Good Flashlights
One, expensive flashlight won’t be as good as four surprisingly decent ones. I love this cheapo Chinese thing, and you can buy it in a pack of four for just $16.
Add a giant pack of tea candles if you think those would be nice, but beware fire hazards when water may not be flowing from hoses, and the fire department is already busy elsewhere.
With any gadgets you want to use post-quake, it can be a good idea to standardize the batteries. That way you can just keep a single, giant pack of AAs around, instead of trying to scrounge junk drawers for that one CR2 cell you know you had leftover. Lithium batteries have a 10-year shelf life.
Can You Hear Me Now?
A pair of cheap walkie talkies (again that run on AA batteries) could allow you to set up a reliable line of communication between home and office, or to stay in touch on the go. You’ll never, ever get anything like the claimed 27-mile range out of these things, but two or three miles shouldn’t be a problem.
Navigate, Without Google Maps
Go ahead and purchase a paper street map of your city or area. You won’t be able to get on Google Maps if the power is out or cell service is down, and you’ll be amazed at how badly you’ve allowed your navigation skills to deteriorate in the age of GPS.
What about Food?
Food is one of the more difficult things to stockpile because of the cost and limited shelf-life and. Luckily, you probably have enough half-eaten boxes of cereal, and forgotten cans of soup to make it through 72 hours already. But what if you want to give yourself a longer period to wait it out? Your best bet is just to buy extras of the stuff you eat already, keep a little more around than you usually would, and then regularly rotate through that supply. So if you eat a couple cans of soup a week, order a case or two, eat that, and replace it with fresh stuff regularly. At just $3.74 for a four-pack, that’s actually a great food to stock up on.
Protect Your Feet
Following an earthquake, you may have to walk through dangerous debris, or just walk home from the office you regularly wear heals to. Keeping a solid pair of comfortable boots in your car’s trunk or under your desk could make your life a lot easier. We’d recommend boots over athletic shoes because they’ll better protect you from sharp stuff you may need to walk on, while providing you a more stable platform that also keeps your ankles from twisting. A big part of comfortably making it through situations like this is in avoiding injury. And boots will help you avoid injury. Our favorite boots, by far, for both men and women are the Salomon Quest 4D GTX. But, at $230 for my 10.5, they’re expensive to keep around only as an emergency option. Rather than do that, we’d instead suggest you use them as your outdoors footwear, rotating them into emergency standbys as they get old. Or put your current boots in emergency duty, and treat yourself to a nice new pair for outdoor adventures.
Don’t forget your dog, if he’s going to have to deal with rubble, broken glass, and other sharp, cutty stuff too. In a pinch, you can make a dog bootie from duct tape, but a much better solution would be a purpose-built solution like the Ruffwear Summits.
Facing damaged structures, lost keys, and fallen rubble, you’ll want a nice and big pry bar for accessing damaged areas and moving stuff out of the way. A 24-inch model should get you into or out of pretty much anything. A smaller option might be good for keeping in you car or office.
You’ll also want a pair of gloves, to protect your hands from cuts and abrasion and to keep blisters at bay during heavy work. I swear by Mechanix Originals.
How deep you go into the tool rabbit hole should be predicated on what you know how to use. There’s no point sticking an MIG welder in there if don’t know how to weld. Just assemble a few items that you know through experience you like to have, then keep them somewhere you can get to them assuming an earthquake has caused the expected damage to your structure.
Store this Stuff
Where do you keep all this?! That’s a question that’s going to be different for every reader. I keep most of mine in my garage, a sturdy structure that’s separate from my house, is unlikely to be damaged in an earthquake, and which would be difficult to break into. Following an earthquake, I should be able to get to it through the garage door, and if not, I can probably get in through the roof. Any solution you decide on should have similar qualities: easy to access, secure, sturdy, and dark and dry.
A rugged molded plastic lockable container like this one from Plano might be a good solution for people living in homes with an outdoor area of some kind. To keep it safe from theft, either drill holes in the bottom and bolt it to something or simply stash it out of sight.
Apartment dwellers will have more trouble. The above, bolted into the front of your parking spot or stored in an on-sight storage unit may be an option. You may have to simply shove everything under your bed or into the back of your closet. There’s no need to go crazy with any of this, and no need to feel like you’re prepping for an apocalypse that will never happen. Do you see stuff here that might make your life more comfortable if you have to go without electricity, a toilet, or running water for a few days, or a few weeks? Now’s the time to set that aside so you’ll have it if such an earthquake does occur.
Have I forgotten anything? Tell us about your earthquake kits in comments.