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Earthquake Preparedness: Are You Ready for The Big One?

In light of this week’s 4.0 earthquake here in the Bay Area, which gave my house in Berkeley a good shake, I want to talk about disaster preparedness this week. I’m no expert, but I have taken a community emergency response team class through a local fire department, and I do have two disaster bins in my backyard, so I can tell you what I know.

First, here’s what’s in my bins:

1. A change of clothes, including shoes, socks, underwear, rain jackets and warm jackets, for everyone in my family. I have to update my kids’ outfits every 6-12 mos as they continue to grow.
2. A tent, pads and sleeping bags
3. Our camping cooking gear: stove, fuel, pots, plates, utensils, etc. (These stay in their own bins next to our disaster bins)
4. A hand-crank flashlight
5. A hand-crank radio
6. Emergency telephone numbers and the address of our nanny in case she has to take the kids back to her house with her
7. A first-aid kit
8. Ten gallons of water (They sit outside of the bins, and I change them every six months. We should really have 1 gallon/person/day for two weeks; which, in our case would be 42 gallons!)
9. Food: cans of beans and corn, canned tuna and chicken, dried pasta, jarred pasta sauce, rice, a huge bag of Costco gorp, some cans of soup
10. Work gloves, duct tape, a can opener, a sharp knife, matches, dust masks
11. Toilet paper, paper towel, tampons
12. Pull-ups for my daughter (And you should have diapers, baby food, and formula if you have a baby)
13. An ax and a shovel in case we need to dig anyone out (these are also next to the bins)
14. Some cash and an extra credit card in case we lose our wallets

All of this is stored in two locked RubberMaid Action Packers (we have one 48 gallon bin and one 24-gallon bin, but I wish we had bought two 48-gallon bins) covered by a tarp to keep it dry.

A few things I need to add:

1. Photocopies of documents like our passports, our driver’s licenses, the deed to our home, a proof of address, and our birth certificates).
2. Extra set of house and car keys
3. Games and activities for the kids
4. A deck or cards or other entertainment for the adults
5. A whistle
6. A flashlight that can be stored somewhere outside so I can get the bins open in the night if I have to run outside without a flashlight

I also have:

1. A notepad, pen and chalk in our mailbox so we can notify each other as to our whereabouts. If the notepad is wet or too difficult to use, we can use the chalk to write on the pavement or on the house.

2. An out-of-state contact to check in with because it will be easier to call my sister in Michigan than to call each other if phone lines are clogged (and it will be easier to text). We have two meeting places—first the backyard, then my mother-in-law’s house (that’s where the notepad/chalk will come in handy).

3. A Red Cross backpack with emergency supplies for two in my car (and should probably increase it to four). I know where the gas shut off is on the outside of the house (You want to shut it off if you see the dial spinning rapidly because that means there is a leak), but we should have a wrench on it.

4. A couple of working fire extinguishers in the house

5. A wind-up flashlight on my dresser where I can easily grab it as I’m running out of my bedroom to grab the kids. I should have another in the kitchen.

What about you, Californians? Are you prepared for The Big One? Have you taken any emergency response classes? (I took mine so long ago that I really need a refresher if anyone wants to sign up in Berkeley with me.) Are there things in your disaster bin that I’ve forgotten?

17 comments to Earthquake Preparedness: Are You Ready for The Big One?

  • Julia

    Um, is this stuff locked? Just saying, if you have cash and birth certificates out there, be careful. As for us, we have one of those huge bucket kits you can buy that comes packed with MREs, water, hand-cranked radio, etc. And the bucket doubles as a toilet. I also have clothes, food, water, first aid kit in my Jeep, in case the studio collapses and we can't reach our stash.

    • meghancward

      Hey Julia, sounds like you are prepared! And yes, as I mentioned above, everything is stored in two locked Rubbermaid containers. We wouldn't leave cash lying around the backyard and blog about it 🙂 If someone wants to steal it, they'll have to hack open the lock with the ax. I do have a friend, though, who leaves her disaster bins (without cash and documents) unlocked because she figures if they're dead someone else should have access to their food and supplies. In our case, there's always the ax.

    • Kristan

      I was wondering the same thing. 😛

  • My plan is to go over to your house!

    • meghancward

      Ha 🙂 We'll save some canned chicken and gorp for you! 🙂 I still don't feel as prepared as I'd like to be, though. I want to retake that emergency training class. I feel like I've forgotten 90% of what I learned.

  • treacycolbert

    My preparedness kit is meager at best compared with yours! Thanks for the reminder.

    • meghancward

      Treacy, it works well to do a little each week instead of trying to do it all at once. Or set aside one day and dedicate it to running around to buy all the supplies at once. But do it! And then keep it updated every six months.

  • Wow. I have an old suitcase packed with a first aid kit and some disposable clothing. Plus 2 gallons of water. That's it. Guess I should get my **** together, huh?

    • meghancward

      Yes! Seriously, we're all going to be kicking ourselves if we don't because it WILL happen (at least here on the Hayward fault). It's just a matter of when.

  • YAY Meghan! I've been waiting for this post. Yes, and that earthquake this week was 6 blocks from my house, and I was not happy about being jolted awake by it. Not at all.

    Your bin is very well prepared. The one thing I have that isn't on your list (and by golly, I need to shore mine up to your standards, like clothes! never thought of it!) is this wonderful book called The Total Outdoorsman survival guide, which shows you everything from how to hunt and set up a camp out of nothing, to how to skin a deer. You need it. Trust me. Highly, highly recommend.

    • meghancward

      Sierra, I'm hoping not to spend more than a couple of days outdoors before making my way to Grandma's house in the suburbs, but you're right. I should get that book. We may not be able to make it to Grandma's, or Grandma's house may sustain damage, too. Besides, we have deer right here in our backyard – ready to be skinned! (Oh but wait. First we'd need a gun.)

  • FYI: Based upon what happened with the Maryland Earthquake, texting may also be as hard as calling… though generally it will eventually get there. :}

    I'm still trying to figure out how I spent 6 years in the Bay Are without a quack, but in my five years in Maryland felt 2…

    Very Nice prepared list!

    :} Cathryn / Elorithryn

    • meghancward


      It seems most of the Bay Area activity has been in the last year. And there's no way to tell whether those mini quakes are releasing tension or building up more. But they are a good reminder to stay prepared. And thanks for the tip about texting. Chalk on stucco may be our best way of communicating when the Big One hits.

  • Jessica King

    Hi Meghan! Great to see you and The whole family at Messy Art today!!

    Just wanted to ask if you's had an automatic gas valve shut off installed. We just had one… $199, down from $345! Special deal. Larry Guillot, owner of Quake Prepare is the one who has a crew of people who nstall them. Since the Oct EQ he's been offering this deal.

    See you Tuesday!!

    • meghancward

      Jessica – no, but great idea. I've never even heard of an automatic gas valve shut off. I'll pick your brain about it tomorrow. And I hope you weren't cleaning up too late after Messy Art Day! I'm still trying to get the paint out of my son's rain boots 🙂

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