As longtime residents of Southern California, we know how difficult it can be to spend the days and weeks after a quake, living in earthquake mode. The phenomenon isn’t really something you can explain to someone who hasn’t experience it personally. New Californians are always asking how they’ll know if what they feel is a quake, or just an especially loud garbage truck. There’s only one answer to that question. You’ll know!
And sure enough when it happens, they’ll say, “you were absolutely right!” An earthquake combines two things that most humans hate– the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises. Feeling like the floor is going to crack open and swallow you, while listening to your house, cracking and groaning, while glass, bricks and your best china crashing to the ground around you, is a horrible sensation.
So what’s the best way to prepare for an earthquake?
Earthquakes are probably the most difficult type of disaster to prepare for, for two reasons. First, there is absolutely no warning when one is going to strike. Second, you never know how or where it’s going to strike. Two earthquakes of the same magnitude aren’t necessarily going to have the same destructive capability. A shallow 5.0 quake, can potentially create more damages and injury than a 7.0 quake centered deep within the earth. Shallow earthquakes mean more shaking and more cracks and fissures in the earth, which in turn damages more buildings, streets and injures more people. You also have to factor in how close the earthquake is to your home and where your home is located. We once experienced a 1.5 quake that was centered very close to our home and knocked books off the shelves – while a 6.4 earthquake 30 or 40 miles away got us out of bed, but left our possessions exactly where they were the night before.
In earthquake country “location, location, location” couldn’t be more true. Remember the parable of the man who built his house on the sand versus the man who built his on the rock? Those guys definitely lived in earthquake country! It’s called liquefaction. Especially in California, in areas where there are high concentrations of sand in the soil – aka high priced beach communities – the violent shaking of an earthquake causes water underground to rise up through the sandy soil, turning pseudo solid earth beneath homes to turn into liquid, swallowing anything above it – houses, stores, freeway on ramps. Making sure that your home is built on rock solid ground is a great first step to long term earthquake safety.
The final reason that earthquakes are so hard to prepare for, is that they tend to happen very early in the morning. Imagine being shaken out of a sound sleep, only to realize that your bed, your walls and your floor are all moving in opposite directions, while you try and remember the first item on your disaster checklist! Not going to happen! In fact that’s the reason we wrote our blog post, How to Earthquake Proof Your Bedroom.
So how do we prepare for earthquakes? As we tell our readers, we always follow the Three Step Approach.
The First Step, is to make sure that you have your earthquake survival gear and know how to secure your home and personal safety when an earthquake strikes.
The Second Step, is to make sure that you’re able to grab everything you need – necessities, keepsakes, vital information – and leave for a safer location, in less than ten minutes. It’s a lot easier than it sounds. All you need is to do is to take the necessary steps now, to ensure you have access to all the items and information that will help you get back to living your normal life, as quickly and easily as possible. You’ll also want to make sure that the things that are most vital to you — your important papers, financial and insurance information, treasured photos, videos and music and scannable keepsakes are backed up onto a portable hard drive and stored in a safe deposit box or safe, in the town where you will go during evacuation. That way it will be safe, sound and waiting for you when you arrive.
The Third Step is to make sure that you have a pre-written plan of what you’ll do and where you’ll go when a disaster strikes, including a plan for how you’ll get back to your normal life, once the disaster is over.
The best way to physically prepare for earthquakes, is to think through the different scenarios that could take place. If a quake is large enough to have to “deal with,” chances are the electricity is going to go out. Telephone and/or cell service could also be down. In Japan, Haiti and Calexico, power lines fell, plunging the city into darkness. That means not only means you won’t have light, but you also won’t have power for computers or televisions and radios. Grocery and drug stores won’t be able to ring up purchases, ATMs won’t work, garage door openers might not function. Name any tool or convenience we rely on in this world and chances are it’s powered by electricity.
So your first defense is making sure that you always have an alternative source of power, battery powered flashlights, extra cash, a supply of canned or frozen food that doesn’t need to be cooked to be eaten, and the all-important supply of water – enough to last you and everyone in your family for three days. Since your home or neighborhood might have significant damage, keep rubber-soled shoes, a warm jacket and other emergency gear within reach of your bed or right inside your closet. Rubber soled shoes will protect your feet from the broken glass and rocks that will probably be strewn everywhere.
We aren’t going to get into the details of how to turn off your gas, when to boil water or a list of items to have on hand for an earthquake, because there are literally hundreds of sources for that information. In fact here are a few of our favorite guides:
You should also create or update your evacuation checklist, detailing the items that you and your family would need if you were unable to live in your home for three or more days. This includes all of your necessities, prescriptions, vital documents (or access to them on portable hard drives, online or in out of area safe deposit boxes), keepsakes, personal and professional contacts, ID and basic medical history and anything else that your family will need while evacuated.
We want you to think about something.
Think about the coverage of the last few earthquakes or hurricanes you saw on CNN. Remember the faces of the people in the midst of the quake zone or the eye of the storm?
They looked shell-shocked, terrified, lost. Most of those people, were at least moderately prepared for a disaster. Those in earthquake country most likely had stockpiled some food and water, those in hurricane country might even have evacuated and done everything their local news and emergency authorities told them to do. And yet, after the disaster, they were standing there, scared and helpless, because their homes, the people they loved, and basically their entire lives have been destroyed to the point that their own existence was now unrecognizable. All of those people, rich and poor, young and old — they all had one thing in common. They had NO idea where to go and what to do from here. That’s exactly what happened to families in Japan after their earthquake. If you’d like to read more about that, take a look at Living In A Cardboard House.
And THAT – knowing what to do and where to go after the disaster, is step three. The most important step of all.
Facing a disaster without giving yourself a plan to recover from it, is like trying to build a house with no blueprint and no tools!
Having two plans can make all the difference in getting you through those first few days and weeks after a disaster strikes.
What are the plans? They are the Family Evacuation Plan and the Get Back To Life Plan — the same plans that we’ve built into our newest book slash program The Backup Plan 3.0.
The evacuation plan starts with one question. If you were at home or at work and suddenly had to evacuate your home, or your general area, where would you go?
As you think about the locations you’ll use for your evacuation, consider, the people traveling with you, how you’ll get there (car, bus, plane), any pets traveling with you and whether those locations will actually work for you – for instance are they close to stores or services your family might need, like pharmacies, clothing, banks and doctors.
We suggest that people have three different locations in mind, to give you different types of locations and choices depending on the circumstances. As you create your plan, write everything down in detail. If you have to use this plan, you and the people you love are probably going to be in panic mode and following an easy to understand plan, will help calm and focus you.
Write down the people who will be traveling with you, and any special instructions you’ll need to gather everyone together, in case a disaster or emergency occurs while you’re all away from home. Name the location that you and your family will use to meet up with each other and the location you will be evacuating to, if you cannot live in your home, but your immediate area is still safe. Include the address of the location, contact phone, email address and directions.
Next choose a location (writing down the details, address and contact information) that your family will use if you not only need to evacuate your home, but your immediate area or city. This might happen during a moderate hurricane or a tornado. Your third location is out of state, for a serious, widely destructive emergency like the Japan or Chile Earthquake, Hurricane Katrina, the Colorado Wildfires, or other disaster that will make your entire region uninhabitable.
You will also include these locations on your emergency wallet card and your family’s wallet cards. Now, no matter what the disaster, even a fire or local emergency, you and your family will now know where and how to gather, and who will be responsible for what, so you can quickly reunite and travel on to your emergency location together. If you like, you can also give a card to the person you chose to be your out-of-area contact as well.
Will you have any pets traveling with you? Be sure to fill out the pet section, so that you will have all the information you need for them, like the name and numbers for the veterinarian, their licenses, and names/numbers of kennels in the location you are evacuating to and any prescriptions or special instructions you’ll need until you return home.
Your Get Back To Life Plan
The worst part of any disaster, short of losing a loved one, is the possibility that the home you love and care for and everything in it would be damaged beyond repair. That is what your Get Back To Life Plan is all about.
Imagine that you and your family have survived an earthquake, but had to leave your area because it is uninhabitable.
You’re in your evacuation location two days after the quake. The phone rings. It’s a good friend of yours, who has just toured your neighborhood and is calling to tell you that your home is badly damaged and he doubts that you will be able to live in it for several months, if ever again.
After you and your family hold each other for a while and talk, you finally feel strong enough to open your Backup Plan Notebook. There you find your Get Back To Life Plan and begin making calls to your insurance agent, your contractor and your boss. You call the local real estate agent in your evacuation city and ask her to begin looking for temporary housing, register your children in the local school, and begin calling the contacts you need (that you jotted down just in case), to help you settle in. Getting settled is easier than you thought, since you have copies of all of the vital documents you need, like your birth certificates and property deeds in a safe deposit box at the local bank. It takes some time, but with hard work and a lot of courage, you and your family are back to living in a matter of weeks.
Now imagine the same scenario, the same phone call, holding your family, talking and then realizing that you have no plan and no clue how to get back to living your life. It’s CNN coverage all over again. The best part of this little scenario is that it hasn’t happened to you and that you have time right now, to make sure no matter what ever occurs in your area, you and your family will be prepared.
If you don’t have a copy of our Get Back To Life Plan yet, just download it here.
Take a few minutes to think about the following questions:
How will we handle our bank accounts, paying our monthly bills and receiving our paychecks? How much emergency cash do we need to have, while traveling?
What are our credit card limits and toll free numbers for emergency increases?
How will we work? Will we work remotely or have to look for new positions? What people or contacts can we call about temporary or permanent jobs?
How will we handle our medical, dental and prescription needs while in the new location? What doctors and dentists can we use while there?
How long can we stay in our evacuation location? If we need to remain evacuated longer, where will we go/stay? Who will our real estate contacts be, if we need to find new permanent or temporary housing?
How are we going to secure the property or vehicles we had to leave behind?
How will we take care of our pets, during the evacuation and until we find new permanent housing?
How will we handle our transportation needs? What contacts will we need to purchase or lease vehicles?
How will we handle our daycare needs? How will we handle getting our children into school if necessary? What schools or contacts will we need, to enroll them in a new school in a temporary or new location?
How will we handle any special needs in our family?
Once you’ve answered the questions, get your family together to work out any potential problems you have uncovered and then draft your plan. And don’t forget to compile a list of real estate agents, financial contacts and jobs, schools, doctors and other professionals or information that you might need to establish yourself in the new city temporarily or permanently.
Starting over is never easy, especially when it happens because of a disaster or other life changing emergency. But taking a few hours now to think through and draft a plan, will give you and your family the direction, information and support that you need, to get through not only the first hours and days after a disaster, but the first steps back to living the life you’ve worked so hard to build.
Have Fun Getting Your Stuff Together! We’ll talk later…
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