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The key to riding out and recovering from an earthquake is getting prepared. In last month's Sunset, we showed you how to secure your house and your possessions. Here, we'll explain what you need to do to secure yourself, your family, and your neighborhood. We'll also recommend what to do during and after a big quake, and offer some suggestions for further reading. It's easy to put off emergency preparations, but now before the next quake-is the time to take action.


First, develop a family earthquake plan. Then rehearse it, figuring out and practicing what each of you will do. Have an out-of-town (preferably out-of-state) contact that everyone knows to check in with after a disaster. Preparation is especially important for households with young children; if your family has a plan, your kids will be less afraid.

As a group, take a walk through your house similar to the "spot-the-hazard" inspection we discussed last month. In each room, determine the safe and the dangerous spots to be during a quake. Establish children's play areas away from hazards such as large expanses of glass, brick, or rock, or masonry walls or chimneys.

Know where you'll gather after a quake and who will be responsible for specific emergency steps, like turning off the gas if neccesary. Everyone should know how to turn off gas, power, and water (both the gate valve into the house and the main shutoff at the street) and how to operate a fire extinguisher.

Assure your children that if you're not at home when the quake hits, you'll get back to them as soon as you can; but do let them know that it could take days to do so safely. If you've taken the time to reassure them, they'll hold onto the hope that you'll return. Figure out the best walking routes between home, work, and school. Transportation will likely be severely limited, so you should know some alternatives. Arrange for children to stay with neighbors if you can't get home.

Your child's school should have a plan for dealing with quakes; so should your office. Be sure that your family plan complements those. Check through the PTA to learn the procedures at your child's school. The school should have disaster supplies on site; some have children bring a supplemental kit from home (energy food bars, canned fruit, juice, teddy bear, flashlight, family photo, and so on).

Don't accept the school's assurances about its planning; ask questions about staff training and responsibilities, and ask to see what emergency supplies are on hand. Find out if the school buildings have been made earthquake-safe. Know what the policy is on releasing students after a disaster.

Check with your bank to see what it plans to do after an earthquake. You'll need money; will you be able to get it? Find out from your city where shelters and services will be set up, as well as where police and fire stations and hospitals are located.


Find a safe place in the house to keep emergency supplies, then gather them together in that place. Don't leave them scattered throughout the house. The small, sturdy structure of a closet makes it an ideal place to store supplies. One reader stores emergency provisions in a fireproof filing cabinet; others use small portable buildings away from other structures.

Keep sturdy bags with your supplies; you can use these to pack and carry what you can if you're asked to evacuate your neighborhood.

Tools and equipment. Earthquake supplies include things you'd likely want to have around the house for other emergencies, such as a storm or a power failure. Some things (sturdy shoes, clothes, gloves, and flashlight) should always be tucked right under your bed. Fire extinguishers should be in the kitchen and garage as well as in your supply cache. Camping gear (lanterns, sleeping bags, stove, tents, rope) can double as emergency equipment; if possible, store it with your other emergency supplies.

Some specific items that should definitely be in your kit are tools to turn off gas and water (you may want to store these right by the shutoffs instead), a crowbar work loves a portable radio with extra batteries, and lighting alternatives flashlights, lanterns, candles, chemical light sticks). Keeping extra radio and flashlight batteries in the freezer will help them last longer...and will hide them from your kids.

For sealing up broken windows, pack a couple of rolls of inexpensive polyethylene sheeting, a staple gun, and a roll of duct tape. Head protection, goggles, and dust masks are also a good idea. Pack lots of plastic bags. Make some plans for sanitation needs should the sewers become unusable-such as plastic bags to use as lining in your toilet or a bucket. Don't forget to plan for baby needs (disposable diapers, wipes, formula, etc.).

A well-stocked first-aid kit-with a manual-is very important. Include any medications taken regularly, and, if you wear glasses, an old or spare pair. If you can, you should also take at least a basic first-aid course.

Pack an envelope of family photos; experts say that these can help ease anxiety if you're separated. Put a notebook in with your supplies; having a record of the experience will help-at the time, and later. Also keep a telephone list; along with those for emergency services, utilities, and the like, remember to include less obvious numbers as well-your vet, your local animal-control center. You'll need cash. You'll also need your household inventory (ideally with photographs or a video) for insurance purposes. Keep all these important papers and documents in a small fireproof strongbox you can carry.

Cordless telephones and phones hooked up to answering machines depend on 110-volt household current as well as telephone lines. For your emergency kit, keep one phone that needs only phone lines; those may be up while power is still out.

A 2,000- to 2,500-watt gas-powered portable generator ($800 to $1,100) can power a refrigerator and several lamps. A refrigerator needs to run only 15 minutes an hour to stay cool if you keep the door closed, so you could unplug it to operate a microwave or other appliance. If you have a generator, run it once a month; keep fuel (and fuel stabilizer) in a safe place, and keep a siphon hose handy. Usually, appliances can't be plugged directly into a generator; keep heavy-duty extension cords with the generator.

If you have a fireplace or woodstove and use it frequently, keep a bucket of sand somewhere handy to help smother the fire.

Water, filters, and purifying methods. You'll need to store a gallon of water per day per person; even optimistic estimates recommend a minimum of three days' supply. A week's is better and the more water you can store, the better off you'll be. Commercially filled-and sealed-water bottles are the most convenient choice.

Prepacked 2 1/2-gallon self-dispensing bottles (two to a box) are available from bottled-water companies and some grocery stores. For carrying, 1-gallon bottles are easier. Theoretically, commercially bottled water (particularly distilled water) lasts forever, but we recommend that you rotate your stock at least once a year.

Along with the water, store coffee filters, handkerchiefs, or other filtering cloth; some means of purifying other water sources (tablets, iodine, or chlorine bleach); and containers for water that emergency services may truck into affected areas. Pool water is fine for everything except eating and drinking.

Food. When it comes to edibles, it's best to store supplies that are easily prepared without much need for additional water-or beat. Store enough food for three to seven days' meals. Rotate stored food into your everyday supply; change each item at least once a year. Don't pack food you and your family don't like; the disaster will be bad enough.

Stock up on canned or powdered beverages (including milk); soups; dry cereals, crackers, pasta, rice, and other grain products (store bread in the freezer); canned meat, chicken, fish, and other protein sources; canned fruits and vegetables; and staples and seasonings. Remember plates and utensils (including a manual can opener), and pack snacks and special treats, too; you'll need them (and earn them).

For each pet, store at least a week's supply of dry food, and count a pet as a person when you're estimating water needs. Also keep a spare leash or carrier.

A kit in the car-and one at the office. Earthquake or no earthquake, it's a good idea to keep some emergency supplies in the trunk of your car. Stock a day pack with comfortable walking shoes, a flashlight, a radio, batteries, water, food (like protein bars), maps, a whistle, warm clothes, and rain gear (or a big plastic garbage bag you can pull on over your head). Replace the food and water in car kits every three months. Don't run your gas tank to empty.

If you can't get to your car easily from your office, have a kit at the office, too.


Once you've got your own house prepared for an earthquake, talk to your neighbors. Most cities are eager to help neighborhoods prepare for disasters; they know that city services will be hopelessly overburdened in the event of a major disaster. Your city and county disaster-coordinating agencies, as well as the Red Cross, will have more information.

A neighborhood meeting once a year may be all it will take to keep your area prepared. Disaster planning can be a natural extension of a neighborhood-watch program (which your police department can help set up if you don't already have one).

Make sure your neighbors are individually prepared, and make sure that everyone knows the special considerations in the area: handicapped or elderly people, infants, pets, as well as specific hazards of structures, geology, and landscape. Know where the utility shutoffs are for your immediate neighbors. Know who has special skills or equipment (nurses, plumbers, cellular-phone owners) and who stores what tools and supplies.

Develop a neighborhood plan like your family plan, so that everyone can be accounted for after a quake.

Setting up a neighborhood plan. Check with your city to see if it has emergency preparedness teams; some, like the ones in Sunnyvale, California, coordinate with neighborhood watch programs. Someone can come to your block meetings to explain what planning is in place in your community, help set up your neighborhood preparedness plan, and pass out written information.

Red Cross offices can often provide similiar services; they have written guides, and they routinely offer courses in first aid and in earthquake and other disaster preparedness.

Private emergency-preparedness trainers are available for schools, offices, and the like. City fire departments or offices of emergency services may have trainers' addresses on file.


The Loma Prieta quake was abnormally short for its 7.1 magnitude; the intense shaking lasted just over 10 seconds. The 1906 San Francisco quake lasted for more than a minute. A quake of a magnitude between 7.5 and 8 could last from 1 to 5 minutes. The 1964 Alaska quake lasted 4 1/2 to 7 minutes.

What do you do during such an event? Having a plan will help you stay calm. When the shaking starts, move quickly to the closest safe place. Don't run outside. Get under a sturdy table or desk and hang on to it, or sit in a hallway with your back against one wall and your feet against the other. Stay away from glass or anything that could fall on you. If you're in bed, the best idea is probably to stay there. Resist the urge to run to someone's aid during the shaking. Protect yourself, duck, cover, and hold on. Never try to restrain a pet during the shaking. And don't try to catch falling objects; you'll likely get hurt. Yell instructions and reassurances, yell and scream at the earth to stop shaking if you want to, but don't move until the shaking has stopped.

If you're at the office, don't be surprised if sprinklers or fire alarms come on (but don't assume there's no fire). If you're in a brick building, get against an interior non-masonry wall.

If you're outside, get to open space away from buildings-and, ideally, away from trees and power lines as well. If you're in a car, pull over away from bridges, overpasses, power lines, tall buildings. Stay in the car. The quake will probably be over in less time than it took you to read this section.


If you're at home, make sure everyone there is all right; don't move the seriously injured unless they're still in danger. Next, get dressed in sturdy shoes and clothes (there's likely to be broken glass and other obstacles) and check for fire hazards.

Check for gas leaks first, but turn off the gas only if you suspect a leak. If your water heater or other gas appliance has been knocked over or pulled free from its wall connection, or if you smell mercaptan (the odorant added to natural gas), turn off the gas, open the windows, and get out of the house. Have only the gas company or a licensed plumber turn the gas back on.

Next, check for fallen or loose wires (note the smell of hot insulation) or damaged appliances. Also, inspect the electric service entrance and the panel. Turn off all appliances and disconnect damaged ones. Shut off nonessential or damaged circuits at the panel. Hang up the telephone.

You can pretty well assume that you'll get breaks in your water lines, particularly at the water heater and toilets. If it seems likely that your service has been damaged, shut off water at the main valve (at the street), so polluted water doesn't enter your home system. Plug tub and sink drains to prevent sewage backups. If you can, report any utility breaks immediately.

Don't stay in your house if walls have become badly cracked or bowed, out of plumb, offset, or otherwise seriously altered-or if there is separation between walls and ceiling. If your house is damaged, get out of it; an aftershock could bring it down.

Anticipate aftershocks and reduce remaining hazards accordingly. If unsecured artwork somehow made it through the first shock, take it down. Wrap breakables in blankets, put rubber bands between cabinet knobs, cover furniture. Don't put things back if they're going to fall again during an aftershock.

Clean up hazardous materials (glass, chemicals, medicines, and so forth) as soon as you can. When cleaning up spills of chemicals, be careful of reactive chemicals; ammonia and bleach, for example, combine to produce toxic gas. Check the containers you keep hazardous materials in; look for cracked bottles, chipped lids, damaged nozzles, leaks.

Check cabinets and closets. Open doors carefully, and be prepared to brace falling objects-or get out of their way. Inspect furnace pipes and exhaust ducts for damage or disconnection. If a textured (cottage cheese) ceiling fell, or paper-wrapped ducts were jarred loose, you may have a problem with asbestos; get out of the house and stay out.

Cover broken windows or large cracks in walls as best you can; put up weatherproof plastic sheeting or, for more security, boards or plywood.

Finally, retrieve your emergency supplies. After you've got your own situation in hand, check on your neighbors.

If you're not at home, getting back together with your family is a high priority, but take the care and the time to do so safely. If you're at work, stay there (and assist, if needed) until you know it's safe to leave. Evaluate your situation: Can you get home? Is that the best place to get to? Listen to the radio, but make sure reports are confirmed before you react to the news.

Once you do get home after a quake, don't rush inside. First, inspect the exterior. Check for cracks in the chimney, walls, porches, and sidewalks-and for shifts in posts or pillars. See if your chimney has separated from the wall; even if it hasn't, don't use it again until it's been inspected. Hairline cracks where stucco meets the mudsill are likely in a quake, but they're not necessarily a problem.

If you see anything out of the ordinary, stay out of the house until a professional can inspect it (do be sure to ask any inspector for a local license; don't let just anyone go into the house). If you have to evacuate, post a notice saying where you'll be. If you're separated from your family, register with authorities to ease the task of tracking each other down.

Living in a disaster area

It's important to maintain as many of your normal patterns as is practical. Even if you don't feel the need, eat a normal amount and drink plenty of water; hunger and thirst will only add to your stress.

Don't eat any food that's been near broken glass. If power is out, use up refrigerator food then freezer food before going to your emergency supplies.

You can use water from other sources in your house-like your water heater or toilet tank (not the bowl) but you have to purify it. Boil water vigorously for 10 minutes, or add 4 drops of bleach per gallon for clear water, 10 drops for cloudy (use only bleach with 5.25 percent sodium hypochlorite as its sole ingredient). Wait 30 minutes. The water should have a slight chlorine smell; if it doesn't, add 4 more drops and wait 15 more minutes.

To get the water out of your heater, turn off the heater and its cold-water supply. Open a hot-water faucet somewhere in the house, and drain the tank into a container. If you think the heater's glass inner lining may be broken, filter the water through cloth or paper.

Assume tap water is contaminated until told otherwise and don't use plumbing (toilets, disposals, drains) until told that sewer lines are intact.

Unless you have an emergency, stay off the telephone (pay phones have a priority dial tone, if you can't get through on your home phone). Cellular phones can be very useful; they were used extensively after Loma Prieta, while conventional lines were inundated. As the crisis eases, check in with your out-of-state contact.

A safe, familiar place for your nervous pet could be your car. Make sure it has enough water and adequate ventilation. Pet impoundment, housing, and emergency care are all free during a disaster; call your local shelter for information.

If you live near the ocean, listen for tsunami warnings (never go to watch one; if you see it, it'll be too late to get away).

Document damage with photographs or signed statements from neighbors. Keep records of all repairs or demolitions. Talk to your accountant; earthquake losses can be tax deductible, and you can amend returns back two years.

A quake is a terrifying experience; be aware of the trauma it causes. Be patient with yourself and others. Make sure you go over the event with your children-get them to talk about their feelings, and try to get them back into a near-normal routine or constructive activity as soon as possible.

There's a wealth of additional materials

If you're lucky enough to live in a community that has taken emergency preparedness seriously, then you'll probably find a number of handouts available at libraries, police and fire stations, and city, county, and state offices of emergency services.

The quality varies widely from town to town, but the material is worth checking. Handouts are also printed by other government agencies, such as the Southern California Earthquake Preparedness Project (SCEPP), the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), and the Washington State Department of Community Development. Brochures are available in several languages. Many are keyed to specific aspects-preparedness for people with disabilities, guidelines for school or office safety, care of pets, and others.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offers a number of handouts specifically geared to children, both to teach them about earthquakes and to help adults cope with children's reactions to the stress of an earthquake. Schools should have access to these brochures; for more information, you can write to FEMA, Building 105, The Presidio, San Francisco 94129.

Local media responded quickly after Loma Prieta; radio and television stations made brochures available right away (and continue to do so). Also quick to respond were chain grocery and hardware stores. Many still have displays up with free written handouts set next to emergency supplies, water-heater strapping supplies, gloves, flashlights, and the like.

Also, most telephone directories have an abbreviated earthquake, first aid, and survival guide in the pages up front.

Some specific readings

Peace of Mind in Earthquake Country, by Peter Yanev (Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 1990; $12.95), is an update of the definitive book on how to strengthen your house.

Earthquake Safe, by David Helfant (Builders Booksource, Berkeley, 1989; $8.95), offers a thorough discussion of structural techniques used in seismic retrofitting.

Earthquake Ready, by Virginia Kimball (Roundtable Publishing Inc., Santa Monica, Calif., 1988; $13.95), offers good advice on preparations for home, office, and school-as well as on special care for infants, the elderly, and pets.

What you should know before you hire a contractor is a free booklet available from the California Contractors State License Board, 3132 Bradshaw Rd., Sacramento 95827. it's useful whether you're planning repair or retrofitting.

The US. Geological Survey distributed a guide for Bay Area residents through Sunday newspapers in September. Although it focuses mainly on ground effects and earthquake prediction, it also contains an excellent bibliography and resource guide. For a free copy, write to USGS Quake Report, 345 Middlefield Rd., Menlo Park, Calif. 94025.

An excellent video, "Surviving the Big One: How to Prepare for a Major Earthquake," was developed by Los Angeles PBS station KCET. Video stores may carry the 1-hour guide in their how-to sections; some stores even let you borrow it free. For details on buying the tape (about $20 plus postage), call (800) 228-5238.

Would you like reprints of this article?

If you are interested in buying quantity reprints (100 or more) of this two-part article for 50 to 75 cents each, please send a postcard with your name, address, and quantities needed to Sunset Quake '90 Reprints, Sunset Publishing Corporation, 80 Willow Rd., Menlo Park, Calif. 94025. We will contact you about reprint availability.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:part 2
Date:Nov 1, 1990
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