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Surviving a Massive Earthquake and Its Aftermath: Preparedness Now, Survival Then

Earthquakes preparedness is, unfortunately, something most people don’t put much thought into. Even in quake-prone areas like California, most residents go about their daily lives without giving earthquake preparation a second thought. They should be thinking about it; preparation is both necessary and easy.

Have A Plan Ready

This is the first and easiest step when preparing to deal with an earthquake and its aftermath. Know what you will do in the event the quake happens at home, at work, at the mall, or anywhere else you frequent. Have emergency contact lists both on paper and on your cell phone and keep them with you. Discuss your plans with your family and closest friends.

Where will you meet? Have an offsite rally point planned. If your house is destroyed, meeting there probably won’t work very well and may be unsafe due to gas leaks, fires or other issues. It’s best to pick a place everyone knows and will be able to find easily, even in the dark. Earthquakes happen at night too, and if the power goes so will the street lights.

Who will call who? Have a checklist of numbers that each person should call. If everyone tries to call everyone, imagine the confusion. It might be better to have each person call a set group, and then meet at the rally point. After a set period of time, if someone is missing, concentrate on calling that person at that point.

Last, practice the plan once in a while. At least a couple times a year, have what the military calls a “sand table exercise.” Everyone stand around the dinner table and place a map of the area (you’ll have one, more on that later) on it and say that an earthquake just happened. Have each member of your group describe what they will do.

Get Your Gear Together

You’re going to need gear unless you want to end up like the people of Katrina, wandering aimlessly with nothing but what you’re wearing and whining about the government. Don’t be those people.

Here are the basics

Buy a medium to a large backpack. Make sure it has waterproof compartments. If you need to, buy waterproof bags to put in the backpack to keep everything dry. Don’t buy a gym bag or duffel. You want your hands free just in case, so a backpack is best because once you have it on, that’s it. Also buy at least one small bag, which will be your alternate. This is for your car.

In the backpack, you’ll want, as a minimum, the following:

A good multitool. Multitools are the modern Swiss Army knife. Compact, light and providing many functions, this is a must-have item.

A good first aid kit. Buy from tactical supply shops that sell military style kits. If someone gets hurt in an earthquake, there’s a good chance you’ll need more than a Band-Aid.

Water. Again, remember Katrina? You’ll want to carry at least some water. If you buy a backpack with a hydration tank, like a Camelbak, you’re halfway there. One gallon is preferable. Of course, you will need more, but remember water is heavy and you have to carry it.

Water purification tablets. You can buy these at most sporting goods stores in the camping section. When you run out of the water, you can hopefully obtain some from open sources like rivers, streams, lakes or broken water mains. Just use your tablets on the water before drinking it.

Several changes of basic clothing. Who knows when you’ll be able to wash? Socks and underwear take priority, and then add one full change of outer clothing. Make sure at least one pair of good hiking/work boots or shoes is available. Your “Sketchers” or “Vans” will not cut it on rubble-strewn streets.

Fire starters. If you’re not Daniel Boone, bring a lighter. Also stock waterproof matches and tinder material like cotton balls. You’ll likely never need these, but this is your fallback if it all goes bad and you’re stuck outside in cold weather.

Basic food supply. Granola bars, energy bars, that sort of thing is what you’re looking for here. Easy to store, not too heavy and no fire or cooking needed are the good points here. Surplus military MREs (meals ready to eat such as ours XMRE) are also good. You’ll want three days worth just in case whichever way you go. I would suggest our military grade 1300XT.

Flashlight. A good tactical light like those from Surefire or Streamlight are perfect. They’re expensive, but they’re usually waterproof and hardened to take abuse. Again, think earthquake. Bring lots of spare batteries.

Radio. Multiband, preferably one of those crank models that don’t need batteries. Emergency broadcasts telling you where to go for help are easier to get with a radio, yes? Optional here would be a set of personal two-way radios. If you’re not too far apart and everyone has one, you might be able to reach each other if the cell phone network is down. Bring at least two sets of batteries for those.

Poncho. Ponchos are excellent. You can wear them if you’re cold or it’s raining. You can use them to make stretchers. You can secure them over you to provide shelter. Get a poncho or three.

Blanket. Something lightweight but effective like a medium wool blanket is good here. Warm enough, but dries quickly when wet. You might get cold outside, and people in shock from injuries will need warmth too.

Toilet Paper. Bring at least two rolls of your favorite brand. Bodily functions don’t stop just because your house collapsed. There may not be bathrooms; bathrooms may not have paper. This is just basic comfort. Basic comfort is a big deal when under stress.

Feminine products. Same reason as the toilet paper, right ladies?

Baby wipes. These are great for basic cleansing. Another basic comfort item.

A map of your immediate area. Don’t get lost on the way to your rally point because the street you drive every single day is blocked, and you don’t know any other way to get where you’re going. And don’t count on your cell phone or GPS to do the work for you. Electronics fail, run out of battery power or just plain get it wrong.

In your backup bag, keep a lighter, smaller version of this list. That bag goes in the trunk of your car. If you are away from home and your house collapses, burns down or is unreachable after the quake occurs, you have at least the basics with you. If you can afford to duplicate your backpack, do that.

Your best bet is to build up your gear slowly unless you can afford to throw it all together at once.

These are the basics. Tailor this list to your individual needs. Keep a log of your supplies, and when you put them into the kit, so you can rotate expired items. Try on your backpack with everything inside it and make sure you can carry it.

I highly recommend you check out some survival books and websites and see what brands and supplies others are using. It would also be prudent to learn some basic skills that most urban dwellers have lost, such as how to make a basic shelter, trauma first aid, and CPR.

It’s all flexible, but the important thing is that you do it. It’s best to be prepared and never use your gear, then find yourself in a situation wishing you’d done something ahead of time.

You can’t predict or stop the Big One, as we call the predicted massive quake here in California.

You can, however, be prepared to face it when it comes with the best chance of survival for you and those you care about most.

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