Earthquake Prep for Parents

Hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, wildfires – these all give at least a tiny bit of advance notice. But nobody knows when The Big One will happen until at actually does. So it’s important to be prepared.

Having resided in San Francisco for the better part of a decade, I have no excuse for not doing my earthquake prep. But I have to admit, I’m not on top of this one.

It’s not like I have never thought about it before. My bookcases and dressers are anchored to the walls. I have two survival bags sitting in the top of the hall closet, chock full of, um, survival stuff.

We made a plan for how we will regroup as a family if an earthquake happens. But it is out of date, because we moved, the kids no longer go to the same daycare, and I’m at a different job nowadays. So it’s time to revisit the plan.

What to expect

But first off, let’s talk about what life will look like right after an earthquake. According to SF72.org, San Francisco’s public web page devoted to local earthquake prep, the most important time period to be ready for is the first 72 hours after the earthquake strikes. This is because aid organizations won’t have been able to really establish support services yet, so it’s on local residents to tend to their own needs at first.

For the gory details on the likely face of the catastrophe, go read Here’s What Will Happen After a Huge Earthquake Inevitably Hits California  from Vice.com. That shares the more thrilling aspects of downed power lines and houses reduced to rubble.

What will life really look like after an earthquake? I’m guessing that it will be a combination of trauma, annoyance and block party. How much of each you get will depend on your location and amount of preparation.

For parents, of course, the primary concerns are about safety and wellbeing of our children. The best things we can do to make sure our kids are going to get through this okay are to take precautions in advance, make plans, and educate our families and our caregivers on how to act.

Advance precautions: 

  1. Make sure you anchor all furniture to the walls, such as bookshelves and dressers.
  2. The two greatest dangers immediately after an earthquake are downed power lines and natural gas leaks. For power lines, the key thing is basically stay as far away as possible. PG&E has a more detailed explanation here.  Make sure you know where your gas shut off valve is in your house or apartment building so that you can shut it off if you smell natural gas after the quake. Another point of advance preparation is to buy a gas shut off wrench like this one from Home Depot or some other hardware store: Screen Shot 2018-10-26 at 7.37.55 PM
  3. If it is a serious quake, regrouping as a family may take some effort. I have family members who were at Candlestick Park when the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake struck. They said that it took them something like 8 hours to get home to San Jose – a trip that normally only takes an hour. So it is important to think through the different scenarios for how your family will get back together depending on when an earthquake hits. This is really challenging even to just think through! For example, if you have a child in daycare, what are their earthquake shelter plans?  If you have a child in school, how will the school handle it? If you have a long commute, how will you get back if public transportation is shut down? I think this step in planning is probably one of the most critical to plan in advance. Also keep in mind that cell phone service will likely be overloaded in the time immediately following the quake. Give everyone in your circle instructions to use text messages to get in touch instead of calling, because texts can often get though more easily when service is overloaded. Have a designated family member outside of your local area who can disseminate news to family and friends in more distant locations. Another good thing to do is to list yourself as “Safe and Well” on this page maintained by the Red Cross. Oh yeah, and post to Facebook.
  4. When it comes to creating an earthquake prep bag, it can be really easy to get all swept up in imagining doomsday scenarios as depicted in movies like Independence Day, War of the Worlds, or The Road. But I think the more likely scenario is that you’ll either be at your house with possibly no power or running water, or camping out at the local high school gymnasium. This is really about having supplies on hand to get you through the first three days immediately following the earthquake. So think about your daily necessities: diapers, food for three days, water, cash, batteries, flashlights, toiletries, change of clothes, prescription medications, etc. SF72.org has a great list of what to put in your emergency kit.

Make a plan

  1. As many people who have gone through hurricanes, floods and wildfire disasters know, sometimes it can take a lot longer than just three days to get back to normal. Do some planning in advance so that you can easily get a new place to stay while your residence is getting repaired. One really valuable part of this is checking your homeowner’s insurance policy or your renter’s insurance policy to see if it will cover “loss of use” following an earthquake. Another thing to do in advance is get registered for Airbnb.com, so that you can book a place to stay more easily.

Educate your loved ones

  1. Teach your kids to DROP to their hands and knees, COVER their heads with their arms and get under a table or desk if possible, and HOLD ON to their shelter while an earthquake is shaking. This will help protect them from falling objects in their vicinity.
  2. Don’t try to run outside if you are indoors – bricks and windows can fall on your head.

Earthquakes are a little different than other natural disasters because they literally can’t be predicted. If you live in an earthquake prone area, it just makes sense to get ready as if it is going to happen soon.

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