Thursday, April 3, 2014

Earthquake Preparedness

Two weeks ago I was awoken in the early morning to Devin saying something like, "Get the baby!" Instinctively, I leapt to my feet, but then froze in place, unsure of exactly why I was in survival mode.

"Bri, we need to get Oscar."
"Heh..." I was still quite sleepy. I heard something fall to the floor in another room. Something plastic and inconsequential.
"Do you not feel that?"
"I'm going to the bathroom." As I stood in the bathroom doorway I could hear the windows shaking as if from a very strong gust of wind.

This is my typical reaction to earthquakes. I don't seem to notice them, or process their occurrence until they're over.

Then, on Friday night, I was just climbing into bed (yes, ridiculously early) when I heard Devin's disturbed voice from down the hall.

"Are you feeling that?"
"The earthquake."
"No. When?"

For the record, Oscar also didn't notice either of the quakes. And after Friday's I drifted merrily off to sleep while Devin, our resident seismologist, watched an hour of live news coverage on the quake, its aftermath, and its forecasted catastrophic implications.

The next morning, he proclaimed it was time to get our earthquake emergency kit in place. And that's what our weekend became. Keep reading if you want tips on how to assemble your own earthquake emergency kit for only 400 goddamn dollars.

Write out a list of everything you're going to want to have in your 3-day worst case scenario kit. Don't know what you need? That's okay, neither does anybody else, which is why sites like exist to help you. Once you've gotten ahold of the list, review it and start asking questions like, "Dust masks?" and "What do we need a local map for?" The answer to that second question, it turns out, is because you have to assume all satellites are down and therefore there is no GPS so if you need to limp yourself to a hospital or go on the run because your neighborhood's been overrun with looters, you'll know which way is which. "Isn't that more apocalypse than earthquake?" you'll ask. And so I'll tell you upfront that for planning purposes those two outcomes are completely interchangeable. Once you recover from that realization, the list-making stage becomes fun again, like planning for a family trip to the lake house. Let's make sure we have enough bedding and a warm jacket for cooler weather!

We went to both Target and Home Depot to fulfill our list. It was a shopping trip that was unsatisfying for a number of reasons. First, I typically like to shop for things I want. A Target run is usually an enjoyable experience. An excursion to Home Depot signifies an improvement project for our home. Even when I'm just at the grocery store I can excuse the tedium because I know I'll get to eat all the things. But how can one take pleasure in a cart full of batteries, tarp, canned green beans and rubbing alcohol?

That brings me to my second point. What's worse than a cart full of stuff you don't want? A cart full of stuff you don't want and don't know if you'll ever use!

Because all of these little life-saving invaluable items add up, I was trying to curb unnecessary spending as much as possible. In the first aid aisle I wondered if I should buy one ace bandage or two. What were the chances of both of us spraining something? But then what if one person sprained two things? You can do the math on how many gallons of water you'll need to survive 3 days, but then any number you reach doesn't feel like a final answer. So we need 9 gallons? Maybe we should get 12. What if we are stranded for longer than a week? Should we get 50? How many will fit in the garage?

And that's the third reason this shopping trip is the worst. No matter how much you buy it doesn't feel like enough. It shifts your perspective and suddenly those folks from Doomsday Preppers don't seem so extreme. They really have thought of everything. Good for them. But you know what, I bet even they wonder if they've got enough homemade bison jerky to feed their underground family compound for twenty-five years.

Once you get home and unload the car, it doesn't take long to arrange your stockpile into a number of plastic bins. Seal them tight and set them aside. Hopefully you won't need them any time soon. Nah, who are we kidding? The Big One's right around the corner! Aren't you glad you got all those garbage bags to poop in like the list told you to?

Then, it's time to strategize your safety plan. Find the best place to take shelter during the quake. Locate your gas lines so you can turn them off in case the rumble damages them. As I'm typing this I realize I forgot to do that during the weekend's prep. I really have no idea where the gas line is in our house. It's times like these I wish there was a sort of personalized Google that I could subscribe to, one that told me answers to only questions about my own life. ("Where did I leave my sunglasses?" would be searched most often.) Regardless, I will say that when I locate the gas line I plan to stash a pair of pliers or a wrench nearby so I can have that on hand to turn it off when the time comes. Unless, of course, the gas line is controlled by a button or switch, which seems unlikely, but like I've said, I've never seen it!

Once you've completely assembled your garage-based bunker, you're free to wonder if you've overlooked something. Or everything. Your thought process will be something like, "Ok, everything I need is in the garage. So even if the whole house falls down, I will be safe. But why would the whole house fall down and the garage remain standing? What makes the garage any more structurally sound? It isn't. What if the garage is the only part of the house that is demolished? Am I capable of removing roof chunks to free my precious supplies? You know what, it doesn't matter because there is nowhere in the house to put all this crap so it has to stay in the garage. Ok we're good. Wait! What if we aren't at home? I mean, we are away from home just as much as we're at home. What if we're all in the car running an errand on the west side? We won't have anything. Ok, we'll make a car kit as well. Two car kits, one for each. But there's no way we are ever going to live up to the kit in the garage. We'll just have to head for home no matter what because that's where our stuff is. Unless we're at the beach when it happens and there's a tsunami. Then we'll be dead."

Now you're ready for Step Five.

The thing about assembling an earthquake survival kit is that it forces you to be so pragmatic that you temporarily forget that what you are actually preparing for is a desperate, scary circumstance. In Target, you throw a package of Oreos into your cart full of supplies thinking they'll make the post-apocalypse more fun. Let's see how fun they are when they are the last of your food and you're trading them for ammunition.

It's like when I was buying earthquake insurance from State Farm. Or rather, trying to get our agent to admit it was a waste of money.  Him: "If you don't get it and an earthquake renders your house unlivable, you still owe the bank your mortgage. But, you could just declare bankruptcy."
Me: "Oh, I guess that's an option."
"Or, remember your homeowners policy covers fire. So if a gas line bursts or the quake otherwise causes your house to burn down, you'd be able to file a claim."
"Hey now there's an idea!"

I bought the policy anyway and sometime later stopped to reflect on the conversation. God, how depressing the whole thing is. We're talking about our home, our stuff, our well-being. And once we gather everything on the supplies list, come up with a communication strategy, anchor furniture to the wall, push glassware a little further back on the shelf... all that's left to do is wait.

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