Earthquake Preparation in California

For those of us who live in California, we have been bombarded by not only images of Haiti, but news stories reminding us that we, too, live on an earthquake fault. Thanks?

In a timely letter, a mom at Berkeley Parents Network had a lot of good questions surrounding earthquake preparation:

I’m gathering kits for earthquake emergency at our home. Where do you put supplies? Our garage is in our basement and I fear not being able to get below the house to access supplies if left in the garage. Do you store supplies/emergency kit outside or do you split it up around the house? Where do you store water and how do you store water? Any other essentials for 2 kids under 5yrs?

Thanks!

We were moved to put together an earthquake kit shortly after Katrina. My husband bought one of those pre-made kits — I believe from REI — that also included water. We stored the backpack in our coat closet because as the BPN mom pointed out, our garage is detached and we may not be able to get to the supplies. But I must update it as Katrina happened almost 5 years ago.

Ari’s school has us update his earthquake kit every year. It includes non-perishable food, water, a change of clothes, one of those NASA-type blankets — the name escapes me — a flashlight and a picture from home.

Do you have an earthquake kit? What do you include in the kit and where do you store it?

76 thoughts on “Earthquake Preparation in California

  1. It’s worth remembering that the southeast

    is very vulnerable to a Haiti-sized earthquake or larger, and while building codes are better than in Haiti, they are not California-level. We are lucky to get frequent little quakes to remind us of the danger; the New Madrid region, not so much.

    In California, our rugged and fractured geology keeps an earthquake’s energy relatively contained. On the East coast, however, the soils transmit seismic energy much more easily; the link shows a map comparing the shaking range of a California earthquake and  New Madrid earthquake of similar size:

    http://quake.usgs.gov/

    The largest earthquake recorded in the lower 48 isn’t in California, but Missouri, and in fact there were three magnitude 8 quakes that happened in succession in 1811-12. A magnitude 8 is 100 times as much energy as the earthquake that hit Haiti (or for that matter, the Loma Prieta earthquake in San Francisco, of similar size).

    • Missouri is the east?

      ;)

      You’re right though.

      Here we generally think of ourselves as not being in earthquake country, but the reality is that there was a 6.8 just 15 miles away about 100 years ago so it is still a possibility.

    • Had an earthquake in Cleveland growing up

      Occasionally Cleveland gets a little tremor, because it’s on a fault line. As if Cleveland doesn’t have enough problems, between the Rust Belt and the Snow Belt and every other thing.

  2. It’s worth remembering that the southeast

    is very vulnerable to a Haiti-sized earthquake or larger, and while building codes are better than in Haiti, they are not California-level. We are lucky to get frequent little quakes to remind us of the danger; the New Madrid region, not so much.

    In California, our rugged and fractured geology keeps an earthquake’s energy relatively contained. On the East coast, however, the soils transmit seismic energy much more easily; the link shows a map comparing the shaking range of a California earthquake and  New Madrid earthquake of similar size:

    http://quake.usgs.gov/

    The largest earthquake recorded in the lower 48 isn’t in California, but Missouri, and in fact there were three magnitude 8 quakes that happened in succession in 1811-12. A magnitude 8 is 100 times as much energy as the earthquake that hit Haiti (or for that matter, the Loma Prieta earthquake in San Francisco, of similar size).

    • Missouri is the east?

      ;)

      You’re right though.

      Here we generally think of ourselves as not being in earthquake country, but the reality is that there was a 6.8 just 15 miles away about 100 years ago so it is still a possibility.

    • Had an earthquake in Cleveland growing up

      Occasionally Cleveland gets a little tremor, because it’s on a fault line. As if Cleveland doesn’t have enough problems, between the Rust Belt and the Snow Belt and every other thing.

  3. I don’t have a formal earthquake kit

    though we do have supplies and our buildings are not the type likely to be dangerous after an earthquake.

    One suggestion that I’ve seen and like is to store supplies in a large trash can, in a place that will be accessible but is secure. The challenge is that you need to rotate any food or water through it on a regular basis for it to be ready.

  4. I don’t have a formal earthquake kit

    though we do have supplies and our buildings are not the type likely to be dangerous after an earthquake.

    One suggestion that I’ve seen and like is to store supplies in a large trash can, in a place that will be accessible but is secure. The challenge is that you need to rotate any food or water through it on a regular basis for it to be ready.

  5. Given a choice

    I think I’d rather deal with tornadoes, we do here in the upper midwest, than an earthquake.  Most of the time these days, you will have some warning of a tornado, even if it’s just a minute.  I’ve been close enough to two, so when I hear the warning sirens, I take it seriously.  I don’t look outside or get my camera; I head for the basement.

    I guess I’ve never thought of a tornado kit because if the devastation was that bad, it would have blown away anyway.  Even if you were lying right on top of it, you could get blown away and have to scavenge for it.  There was a horrible story here two years ago about a two-year-old boy who was blown right out of his parent’s arms (they hadn’t gotten to the basement) and into a pond where he drowned.  Sorry, Pat Robertson, but natural disasters don’t really care who did what 200 years ago.

    • I guess it all depends what you’re used to.

      The idea of a tornado is pretty scary to me.  I was actually quite near one in DC (it tore the roof off a building in suburban Maryland near my office, right at evening rush hour) and seeing that green sky as I was driving home was pretty terrifying.

      But I don’t find earthquakes all that scary because although you don’t have any warning, 99.9 percent of the time all they do is make a little rattle and it really doesn’t do any serious damage.  You can go many decades between serious ones (depending on where you live of course).  People who haven’t lived through them find them scarier than people who have.

    • The tornado kit obviously goes in the basement :)

      Ironically, though earthquakes don’t bother me, I am terrified of tornados. I’ve had several nightmares about them.

      • And everyone should have some sort of disaster

        supplies.

        Maybe you’re not in earthquake country – but for example during the week of the Northridge earthquake, more people died in the northeast due to a paralyzing ice storm than died in California due to the earthquake.

        Can you manage to be without power for a week? Remember if there’s no power, people can’t pump gas and stores can’t run cash registers. Do you have enough food and water to scrape by? A saw to remove tree limbs? Having a propane barbecue, a fire pit, a woodburning stove, a camp stove, or a solar oven could be a huge bonus.

        There was a wonderful series on DailyKos a couple of years ago:
        http://www.dailykos.com/

        • True but

          tornados don’t wipe out whole cities. If your neighborhood gets hit, the Best Western down the road is probably just fine. In fact, your neighbor’s house might be fine, too. Tornado damage is pretty random.

        • water

          Everybody should know that they have a large clean water reservoir – the hot water heater.  In case of any emergency that affects the water supply, turn off the gas/electric and the valve that carries the water to the house so somebody doesn’t accidentally drain it washing their hands.  

      • Might not help

        You might be fine in the basement, but your house might have blown away and everything in the basement blew out with it.  So you might have to go looking for it anyway.  Or hope someone else’s blew into your yard.

    • Me too

      We have a basement, we take those warnings seriously, and you’re pretty safe in a basement stairwell. Where can you go to be safe from an earthquake? Even if you’re in the middle of a meadow, clear from falling debris, the resulting fires could still get you.  If you don’t fall into a giant crevasse in the crust of the earth. Also, earthquakes seem much larger in scope. With a tornado, if one or two neighborhoods get hit, that’s huge. Earthquake incapacitate entire cities. I vote tornado.

      • I think we fear what we don’t know

        I’ve lived through several formidable earthquakes and haven’t seen entire cities incapacitated or even resulting fires. And not even a tiny crevasse :-)

        Haiti is so devastating because it was such a powerful quake, near the country’s largest city, and because many of the buildings were ramshackle to begin with, so there was widespread destruction. Most earthquakes don’t cause even a small fraction of the damage we’re seeing in Haiti. But all the footage and photographs we’re seeing make the prospect of a large earthquake seem truly terrifying. And they can be, just not very often.

        Because I’ve never been through them, I find the idea of hurricanes and tornadoes much scarier than earthquakes. The reality is no matter where we live, we’re at risk of some natural disaster, right? Or does anyone know of a place that’s pretty risk-free?

        • The Northeast, mostly

          We rarely have scary, large-scale natural disasters. Hurricanes generally peter out before they make it here. Blizzards and ice storms might just knock out power for a few days, but even those don’t happen very often. It’s pretty safe, neutral, four-season weather territory.

            • yes

              Ice storms don’t scare me because that’s what I grew up with.  But I took the earthquake precautions very very seriously when I first moved out here.  And now after a decade I’m becoming blase about those too – I’ve gotten used to the idea of them even though I haven’t experienced the reality.

              • ice

                Ice storms, to me, are very scary because they rarely forecast them, unlike regular snowstorms. I guess they are hard to predict?

                They are also deceptive. Things can look fine outside, and then you go out and fall down on your ass.

                People also act stupid during ice storms, again, because they don’t look like anything is happening/has happened, and they keep driving etc and wrapping themselves around trees, at least around here.

                And of course, the major risk of power outages…

          • A good reason to move there

            I love the NE.  If blizzards are the worst, well, I think coming from North Dakota, I’d laugh that off pretty quickly!  I’d be the idiot driving around because what’s six inches of snow?

            • I’m in the snowbelt

              We don’t even shut down for blizzards or have runs on grocery stores around my part of the Northeast.  6 inches is a normal winter day around here.  You’d fit right in.

        • Exactly

          Earthquakes don’t really scare me because they were something I grew up with. The Northridge quake knocked me out of bed, and it was by far the scariest quake I can remember — mostly because it was a long one. Even still, the idea of quakes in SoCal isn’t scary. I’ve heard we’re near a fault line here in IL, and a bad quake here would be much worse I think.

          Like you said, anywhere you live, there is SOMETHING that could be devastating. I love the idea of going back to live in the PacNW, and even still there is a tiny seed in the back of my head — VOLCANO.

        • Here.

          Seriously. We’re on the most stable land mass on earth. We’re too far south for cyclones (what you call hurricanes), tornadoes don’t exist, the continental shelf is too wide for tsunamis, it’s too hot for snow or ice of any sort, we don’t have enough vegetation for real bush fires (like in Melbourne)….the worst that happens here is severe heat. And that’s rare and very manageable.

          In fact, if it wasn’t so beautiful here, Perth would be down right boring. Takes all the mother nature excitement right out of things!

            • Sure.

              Certain parts do (and other parts are in flood….the northwest is currently getting 100 mm of rain per day!). But it doesn’t bother me much (not being a farmer). And they’re cyclical, so they don’t last forever. We haven’t been that badly affected over here in the west….Victoria and New South Wales have some bad bits. But the worst that it means for me is a restriction on how much I can water my lawn. Even then….we have a pool and I have a veggie patch. We’re not talking plagues of Egypt sort of drought (though you’d think so to listen to the news….I swear they create drama because so little happens here.).

              I have plans….if Armageddon hits the rest of the world, I’m heading for the farm. We have a well that taps the best aquifer around and a fenced off patch of land for growing veggies. I reckon with a gun (for killing kangaroos and goats….and the people that come to steal our water) and some ingenuity, we could all live pretty happily up there.  :)

      • No crevasses

        I have never seen a giant crevasse created by an earthquake. Even on the fault, you might see buckling, but the idea of a giant fissure opening up is a myth.

        Fires are caused by broken gas lines or by fallen power lines, and are only deadly in densely populated areas.

        Most single family wood frame homes, properly affixed to a foundation, built to American building codes, are very safe in an earthquake. They are lightweight and flexible. A masonry chimney could be a danger. Shelves inside can be a danger if they’re not affixed to the walls.

        I admit that I don’t want to be in a parking garage or under a concrete overpass. Those scare me.

        • Me too.

          We went to the Exploratorium in San Francisco recently and ended up having to park under an overpass, and I was relieved that our car was not crushed when we emerged from the museum. :)

          • Do they?

            Maybe very rarely.  You see cracks in the asphalt occasionally, but not usually anything I’d call a break.  With an extremely serious one freeways do occasionally fall down.  That’s very rare though, maybe once a decade or less?  You see serious damage from tornadoes in the US every year.

        • collapses and crevasses

          I did not like driving over the Bay Bridge during the decade or two after the earthquake when part of it collapsed and it was officially ruled unsafe.

          But I did enjoy commuting along I-280 and looking down into the giant “crevasse” – now a reservoir – that is part of the San Andreas fault.

  6. Given a choice

    I think I’d rather deal with tornadoes, we do here in the upper midwest, than an earthquake.  Most of the time these days, you will have some warning of a tornado, even if it’s just a minute.  I’ve been close enough to two, so when I hear the warning sirens, I take it seriously.  I don’t look outside or get my camera; I head for the basement.

    I guess I’ve never thought of a tornado kit because if the devastation was that bad, it would have blown away anyway.  Even if you were lying right on top of it, you could get blown away and have to scavenge for it.  There was a horrible story here two years ago about a two-year-old boy who was blown right out of his parent’s arms (they hadn’t gotten to the basement) and into a pond where he drowned.  Sorry, Pat Robertson, but natural disasters don’t really care who did what 200 years ago.

    • I guess it all depends what you’re used to.

      The idea of a tornado is pretty scary to me.  I was actually quite near one in DC (it tore the roof off a building in suburban Maryland near my office, right at evening rush hour) and seeing that green sky as I was driving home was pretty terrifying.

      But I don’t find earthquakes all that scary because although you don’t have any warning, 99.9 percent of the time all they do is make a little rattle and it really doesn’t do any serious damage.  You can go many decades between serious ones (depending on where you live of course).  People who haven’t lived through them find them scarier than people who have.

    • The tornado kit obviously goes in the basement :)

      Ironically, though earthquakes don’t bother me, I am terrified of tornados. I’ve had several nightmares about them.

      • And everyone should have some sort of disaster

        supplies.

        Maybe you’re not in earthquake country – but for example during the week of the Northridge earthquake, more people died in the northeast due to a paralyzing ice storm than died in California due to the earthquake.

        Can you manage to be without power for a week? Remember if there’s no power, people can’t pump gas and stores can’t run cash registers. Do you have enough food and water to scrape by? A saw to remove tree limbs? Having a propane barbecue, a fire pit, a woodburning stove, a camp stove, or a solar oven could be a huge bonus.

        There was a wonderful series on DailyKos a couple of years ago:
        http://www.dailykos.com/

        • True but

          tornados don’t wipe out whole cities. If your neighborhood gets hit, the Best Western down the road is probably just fine. In fact, your neighbor’s house might be fine, too. Tornado damage is pretty random.

        • water

          Everybody should know that they have a large clean water reservoir – the hot water heater.  In case of any emergency that affects the water supply, turn off the gas/electric and the valve that carries the water to the house so somebody doesn’t accidentally drain it washing their hands.  

      • Might not help

        You might be fine in the basement, but your house might have blown away and everything in the basement blew out with it.  So you might have to go looking for it anyway.  Or hope someone else’s blew into your yard.

    • Me too

      We have a basement, we take those warnings seriously, and you’re pretty safe in a basement stairwell. Where can you go to be safe from an earthquake? Even if you’re in the middle of a meadow, clear from falling debris, the resulting fires could still get you.  If you don’t fall into a giant crevasse in the crust of the earth. Also, earthquakes seem much larger in scope. With a tornado, if one or two neighborhoods get hit, that’s huge. Earthquake incapacitate entire cities. I vote tornado.

      • I think we fear what we don’t know

        I’ve lived through several formidable earthquakes and haven’t seen entire cities incapacitated or even resulting fires. And not even a tiny crevasse :-)

        Haiti is so devastating because it was such a powerful quake, near the country’s largest city, and because many of the buildings were ramshackle to begin with, so there was widespread destruction. Most earthquakes don’t cause even a small fraction of the damage we’re seeing in Haiti. But all the footage and photographs we’re seeing make the prospect of a large earthquake seem truly terrifying. And they can be, just not very often.

        Because I’ve never been through them, I find the idea of hurricanes and tornadoes much scarier than earthquakes. The reality is no matter where we live, we’re at risk of some natural disaster, right? Or does anyone know of a place that’s pretty risk-free?

        • The Northeast, mostly

          We rarely have scary, large-scale natural disasters. Hurricanes generally peter out before they make it here. Blizzards and ice storms might just knock out power for a few days, but even those don’t happen very often. It’s pretty safe, neutral, four-season weather territory.

            • yes

              Ice storms don’t scare me because that’s what I grew up with.  But I took the earthquake precautions very very seriously when I first moved out here.  And now after a decade I’m becoming blase about those too – I’ve gotten used to the idea of them even though I haven’t experienced the reality.

              • ice

                Ice storms, to me, are very scary because they rarely forecast them, unlike regular snowstorms. I guess they are hard to predict?

                They are also deceptive. Things can look fine outside, and then you go out and fall down on your ass.

                People also act stupid during ice storms, again, because they don’t look like anything is happening/has happened, and they keep driving etc and wrapping themselves around trees, at least around here.

                And of course, the major risk of power outages…

          • A good reason to move there

            I love the NE.  If blizzards are the worst, well, I think coming from North Dakota, I’d laugh that off pretty quickly!  I’d be the idiot driving around because what’s six inches of snow?

            • I’m in the snowbelt

              We don’t even shut down for blizzards or have runs on grocery stores around my part of the Northeast.  6 inches is a normal winter day around here.  You’d fit right in.

        • Exactly

          Earthquakes don’t really scare me because they were something I grew up with. The Northridge quake knocked me out of bed, and it was by far the scariest quake I can remember — mostly because it was a long one. Even still, the idea of quakes in SoCal isn’t scary. I’ve heard we’re near a fault line here in IL, and a bad quake here would be much worse I think.

          Like you said, anywhere you live, there is SOMETHING that could be devastating. I love the idea of going back to live in the PacNW, and even still there is a tiny seed in the back of my head — VOLCANO.

        • Here.

          Seriously. We’re on the most stable land mass on earth. We’re too far south for cyclones (what you call hurricanes), tornadoes don’t exist, the continental shelf is too wide for tsunamis, it’s too hot for snow or ice of any sort, we don’t have enough vegetation for real bush fires (like in Melbourne)….the worst that happens here is severe heat. And that’s rare and very manageable.

          In fact, if it wasn’t so beautiful here, Perth would be down right boring. Takes all the mother nature excitement right out of things!

            • Sure.

              Certain parts do (and other parts are in flood….the northwest is currently getting 100 mm of rain per day!). But it doesn’t bother me much (not being a farmer). And they’re cyclical, so they don’t last forever. We haven’t been that badly affected over here in the west….Victoria and New South Wales have some bad bits. But the worst that it means for me is a restriction on how much I can water my lawn. Even then….we have a pool and I have a veggie patch. We’re not talking plagues of Egypt sort of drought (though you’d think so to listen to the news….I swear they create drama because so little happens here.).

              I have plans….if Armageddon hits the rest of the world, I’m heading for the farm. We have a well that taps the best aquifer around and a fenced off patch of land for growing veggies. I reckon with a gun (for killing kangaroos and goats….and the people that come to steal our water) and some ingenuity, we could all live pretty happily up there.  :)

      • No crevasses

        I have never seen a giant crevasse created by an earthquake. Even on the fault, you might see buckling, but the idea of a giant fissure opening up is a myth.

        Fires are caused by broken gas lines or by fallen power lines, and are only deadly in densely populated areas.

        Most single family wood frame homes, properly affixed to a foundation, built to American building codes, are very safe in an earthquake. They are lightweight and flexible. A masonry chimney could be a danger. Shelves inside can be a danger if they’re not affixed to the walls.

        I admit that I don’t want to be in a parking garage or under a concrete overpass. Those scare me.

        • Me too.

          We went to the Exploratorium in San Francisco recently and ended up having to park under an overpass, and I was relieved that our car was not crushed when we emerged from the museum. :)

          • Do they?

            Maybe very rarely.  You see cracks in the asphalt occasionally, but not usually anything I’d call a break.  With an extremely serious one freeways do occasionally fall down.  That’s very rare though, maybe once a decade or less?  You see serious damage from tornadoes in the US every year.

        • collapses and crevasses

          I did not like driving over the Bay Bridge during the decade or two after the earthquake when part of it collapsed and it was officially ruled unsafe.

          But I did enjoy commuting along I-280 and looking down into the giant “crevasse” – now a reservoir – that is part of the San Andreas fault.

  7. where to store the stuff

    Our emergency backpack lives in the trunk of my car (I made one for DH but he stuck it in the garage).  That way they’re handy at home but I figure we’ll need them even more if we’re not at home during an emergency.  We keep water in the trunk anyway and the backpacks contain a NASA blanket, $40 cash (not sure why that amount was chosen), socks, sweatshirts for me and the boys, first aid kit, old glasses, ancient powerbars, a dead flashlight, diapers, formula packets . . . . hmmmmm . . .

    When we lived within 2 miles of the San Andreas fault I stored our camping gear near the basement door along with water and some nonperishable food.  This gear is still grouped in bins but I realize now it’s in the center of the garage and harder to get to – I should move it.  We’re on a slab foundation now, so I’m not sure the garage is any more accessible than our kitchen in an emergency.    

  8. where to store the stuff

    Our emergency backpack lives in the trunk of my car (I made one for DH but he stuck it in the garage).  That way they’re handy at home but I figure we’ll need them even more if we’re not at home during an emergency.  We keep water in the trunk anyway and the backpacks contain a NASA blanket, $40 cash (not sure why that amount was chosen), socks, sweatshirts for me and the boys, first aid kit, old glasses, ancient powerbars, a dead flashlight, diapers, formula packets . . . . hmmmmm . . .

    When we lived within 2 miles of the San Andreas fault I stored our camping gear near the basement door along with water and some nonperishable food.  This gear is still grouped in bins but I realize now it’s in the center of the garage and harder to get to – I should move it.  We’re on a slab foundation now, so I’m not sure the garage is any more accessible than our kitchen in an emergency.    

  9. Every time I see the news, and the

    devastation the Haiti earthquake has caused, all I do is cry.  I think of all the Haitian friends we have, and wonder if they have heard from their families.  
        Even though we live in a state where earthquakes are not common, but the way things are today anything can happen.  Someone told me that New Hampshire is on a fault line, and in 1860 New Hampshire experienced an earthquake.  I hope it doesn’t happen again.
        I thank God we have a president who has acted quickly, and sent help to those in desperate need.  I’m so proud of how the american people have extended their help by donating money, food, and other supplies which are needed.

  10. Every time I see the news, and the

    devastation the Haiti earthquake has caused, all I do is cry.  I think of all the Haitian friends we have, and wonder if they have heard from their families.  
        Even though we live in a state where earthquakes are not common, but the way things are today anything can happen.  Someone told me that New Hampshire is on a fault line, and in 1860 New Hampshire experienced an earthquake.  I hope it doesn’t happen again.
        I thank God we have a president who has acted quickly, and sent help to those in desperate need.  I’m so proud of how the american people have extended their help by donating money, food, and other supplies which are needed.

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