Designate a kitchen cabinet or part of a hall closet in your house as the location of an earthquake preparedness kit. Everyone should know where it is and what’s in it. Make it easy to reach in a damaged house. (The crawl space in your basement is not good, especially if you haven’t reinforced your cripple wall.) The kitchen is okay, and so is an unused and cleaned-out garbage can in your garage—unless the garage is prone to collapse due to “soft-story” problems. Many items listed below are handy in any emergency—not just an earthquake. (Maybe you are already doing this as your part of the war on terrorism.)
- First-aid kit, fully equipped, including an instruction manual. Check the expiration dates of medicines and replace them when necessary. Liquids and glass bottles should be sealed in zip-loc storage bags. Keep your previous prescription glasses here; your prescription might have changed, but the glasses will do in an emergency.
- Flashlights, one per person, preferably with alkaline batteries. Replace batteries every year, following a schedule. Keep extra batteries in the package they came in until ready for use. Several large candles for each room, together with matches. Coleman lantern, with an extra can of gas for it.
- Portable radio with spare batteries. If the power is off, this will be your only source of information about what’s going on. Your portable phone won’t work if your phone service is cut off. Your cell phone might work, but heavy phone traffic could make it hard to get through, as was the case during the Nisqually Earthquake, the first “cell-phone earthquake.” It may be more difficult to call locally than to call long distance.
- Food, in large part, what you would take on a camping trip. Granola bars, unsalted nuts, trail mix, and lots of canned goods (fish, fruit, juice, chili, beef stew, beans, spaghetti). Dried fruit, peanut butter, honey (in plastic containers, not glass), powdered or canned milk. We’re talking about survival, not gourmet dining, but try to stock with food your family likes. Keep a manual can opener and other cooking and eating utensils separate from those you use every day. If you lose power, eat the food in your freezer first. It will keep for several days if the freezer door is kept shut as much as possible.
- Fire extinguishers. Keep one in the bedroom, one in the kitchen, and one in the garage. Attach them firmly to wall studs so they don’t shake off. Keep a bucket of sand near your fireplace during the winter, when the fireplace is in frequent use.
- Drinking water. You’ll need one gallon per person per day for at least three days; more is better. Large plastic containers can be filled with water and stored; change the water once a year. Two-and-one-half-gallon containers are available, but one-gallon containers are easier to carry. Your water heater and toilet tank are water sources, but if the water heater is not strapped and falls over, its glass lining may break, requiring the water to be filtered through a cloth. Empty the water heater by turning off the heater (remove its fuse or shut off its circuit breaker) and its hot-water source, then turn on a hot water faucet and fill containers. Water purification will be necessary. Do not use toilet tank water if the water has been chemically treated to keep the bowl clean (turns blue after flushing). The swimming pool or hot tub water is okay for washing but not for drinking. Turn off your house water supply at the street to keep sewage from backing up into your water system. Plug bathtub and sink drains. If you’re a backpacker or you travel in underdeveloped countries, you already know about hand-operated water pumps, filters, and purifying tablets, available at outdoor stores like REI. Iodine-purifying tablets make the water taste terrible, but you can add other tablets to neutralize the taste. Store these with your preparedness kit, and use them if there is any doubt about the water, including water from the water heater or toilet tank. You can also use liquid bleach in a plastic container, but do not use granular bleach!
- Tools. Keep a hammer, axe, screwdriver, pliers, crowbar, shovel, and Swiss Army knife in your kit, along with work gloves and duct tape. Buy a special wrench to turn off the gas at the source. Keep this at the gas valve, and make sure everyone knows where it is and how to use it. If you smell gas, turn your gas supply off immediately (Figure 11-7); the pilot light on your furnace would be enough to catch your house on fire. Don’t turn it on again yourself—let a professional do it. Keep a wrench at the water meter to shut off your water at the source. If your water is shut off, you won’t be able to use the bathroom. Use your shovel to dig a hole in your yard for a temporary latrine. Line the hole with a large plastic garbage bag; alternatively, sprinkle with lime after each use (purchase the lime from a hardware store). If you are able to get to your bathroom, you could line the toilet with a small garbage bag, use the toilet, and dispose of the bag.
- Camping gear. Keep in one place tents, sleeping bags, tarps, mattresses, ponchos, Coleman stoves and lanterns, and gas to supply them so they are as accessible as your preparedness kit. Picnic plates and cups, plastic spoons, paper napkins, and paper towels should be in your kit.
- Other items. Large, zip-loc plastic bags; large and intermediate-size garbage bags with twist ties; toothbrushes and toothpaste; soap; shampoo; face cloths; towels; dishpan and pot; toilet paper; sanitary napkins; shaving items (your electric razor won’t work); baby needs; and special medications (especially for elderly people).
- Kits for elsewhere. Under your bed, keep a day pack with a flashlight, shoes, work gloves, glasses, car and house keys, and clothes for an emergency. Keep another day pack, along with a fire extinguisher, in the trunk of your car and—if you work in an isolated area—at your workplace.