Getting Ready for the Big One: Earthquake Preparedness

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Disaster preparedness kits are an easy way to have emergency supplies ready to transport in case of an earthquake.


Natural disasters are not something that the public generally thinks about on a daily basis. Except for those living in an area where disasters are likely to occur or those who have experienced one first hand, thoughts of preparing for such an event can seem far off and not an immediate priority. After moving to Southern California, specifically the Crescenta Valley, many have discovered that this is an area where natural disasters, including earthquakes, are likely to occur. The only way to fight against Mother Nature is to be prepared.

Earthquakes can strike at any time. They can’t be avoided or prevented, and they have the potential to cause a massive amount of destruction, which will be felt not only during the shaking but also for weeks afterward. Knowing what to do when an earthquake occurs is important, but preparing to deal with the potential aftermath is crucial. According to the Earthquake Country Alliance, an organization dedicated to earthquake preparation, three simple steps should be followed during an earthquake to increase the chance of survival. These are drop, cover and hold on.

When the shaking starts, dropping to hands and knees offers protection from falling over and an overall loss of balance; cover the neck and head area with an arm and try to find something sturdy to take refuge under; hold on to either the shelter or the head and neck. By following these simple steps and staying away from windows and power lines, residents can reduce their risk of injury in most situations during an earthquake.

What happens after the quake stops depends a lot on the magnitude and location of the quake. The San Andreas Fault covers most of California, running up the state from just below the Salton Sea northwest through to Gorman, just north of Santa Clarita, and then turning north until it hits Cape Mendocino, 200 miles north of San Francisco, where it banks west and heads out to sea to connect with the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate. The San Andreas Fault is responsible for a large amount of seismic activity in the state. Scientists have said for many years that parts of California are due for a massive earthquake, dubbed “the big one.” So if the big one hits Los Angeles, what would happen?

According to Brian Ray Hodge, member of the CV Fire Safe Council, fire is one concern after an earthquake.

“Fires are certainly one of the biggest hazards of a major earthquake,” Hodge said. “People forget that 90% of the damage done to San Francisco in 1906 was caused by fires. Today it is not candles and lanterns being knocked over, but rather broken gas lines and downed power lines. We saw this most recently in the Ridgecrest quakes. You should not turn off your main gas line after a quake unless you smell gas or see damage to the gas line, but you should already be prepared by having made sure you are ‘home hardened’ and protected from a spreading fire whether it is a forest fire or a fire sparked by a neighbor’s broken gas line.”

In addition, older buildings would collapse, new buildings would most likely remain standing but would be rendered useless, water and power lines would be cut and communication towers would go down. It would take from several weeks to over a year in the aftermath for the city to fully recover all services.

In order to prepare for an event of this magnitude, or even a smaller one, Californians should have a plan in place for what to do following an earthquake and how to regroup with family and loved ones. They should also have a survival kit that’s accessible with food, water and essentials to last for at least one week. Relationships with neighbors should be built in order that no one is isolated when everything collapses. With tools to survive and strength in numbers, the chances of surviving the aftermath and rebuilding are significantly increased.

Dr. Lucy Jones, known as “the earthquake lady,” is a prominent seismologist with Caltech and the U.S. Geological Survey who has been advocating earthquake preparation for many years. After the recent bout of earthquakes in Ridgecrest, the danger feels more present than ever.

According to the American Red Cross, the best way to get ready for an earthquake is to be prepared. It advises to get an emergency kit together that contains a three-day supply of water (it is estimated that people will need one gallon per person per day), have three days of non-perishable, easy-to-prepare food, a flashlight, a battery powered or hand-crank radio, extra batteries, a large family first aid kit, a multi-purpose tool, sanitation and personal hygiene items, copies of personal documents, cellphone with chargers, extra cash and a list of family and emergency contact information. Those on medication should make certain to always have a seven-day supply.

It has also been advised to have a family plan that outlines where all members can meet if their home is destroyed or damaged from an earthquake, keeping in mind that disasters can strike whether family members are home or not.