Guest column:

The Haiti earthquake should be a wake-up call for all of us. Bear in mind that the Haiti quake was a 7.0 on a strike/slip tectonic fault. The anticipated “big one” for California will also be on a strike/slip tectonic fault, the San Andreas, and is variously estimated to be in the range of the mid 8’s to the low 9’s, hundreds of times stronger than Haiti’s.

Notice that there were two phases of the Haiti quake event. The first was the immediate death and destruction from collapsed buildings. So think about limiting the amount of time you spend in the old brick buildings that were built 70-80 years ago whose mortar is so crumbly and weak that you can dig it out from between the bricks with the handle of a spoon. Yes, they’ve been retrofitted. But the retrofit is only to hold each floor together so that it will “pancake” down on the floor below in one piece instead of several pieces. There’ll be thousands of victims between those collapsed floors, just like in Haiti.

The second phase we are seeing in Haiti is the desperate situation due to the lack of water and food. You can survive for a fairly long time without food, but only a few days without water. Here in California many of us are prepared, but a huge number of people aren’t.

After the shaking from our “big one” stops you can count on a number of things.

There will be no water. Water mains will be broken. The reservoir feeder lines will be broken. The aqueducts that supply water from Northern California, Owens Valley and the Colorado River, all of which cross the San Andreas Fault, will be “torn asunder.” It will be a long time before they are fixed. Unless you prepare now, you will have only the few bottles in your refrigerator, the water in your water heater’s tank, and the water in your toilet tank. Get in a good supply of water, enough for at least two-to-three weeks. The 2 1/2 gallon Sparkletts or ArrowHead plastic containers are a good option. Store them on the floor so they don’t fall off a shelf and break.

You will have only the food that you have on hand now. How long will it last? After the quake you’ll want to use up the food that’s in your refrigerator first, then the freezer. It will spoil without the power on to run the refrigerator. Get extra food for the emergency. Bags of dried beans, bags of rice, cans of dried potatoes, and boxes of dried milk are cheap and easy to store. Costco and Smart & Final are good sources. Put them in some plastic containers you can seal so bugs can’t get to them. With beans, rice, potatoes and milk you can survive. If you can, get some freeze dried backpacking food. That will give you some variety. Another option are the military MRE’s [meals ready to eat].

As for cooking, the natural gas lines (you do have an earthquake valve on your gas line don’t you?) will be down also. But you should be OK if you have a propane barbecue. Just keep one or two extra 5-gallon propane tanks on hand.

The electricity “grid” will be down. There won’t be any electricity for an extended period of time. That means no lights, no TV, no computer, and no gasoline at the pumps (you’re not going anywhere anyway, the highways will be a mess). Banks are wholly reliant on their computers and won’t open for a long time, which means no ATM, no credit cards, and no money. You will have only the amount of cash that you have in your pockets or purse when the quake happens. Withdraw some cash now, in $20 bills, and put it in your safe along with your important papers, insurance policies, etc. Or hide it somewhere where you can get to it. You’re going to need it.

Get one or two Coleman propane lanterns with extra propane bottles for light. Or some kerosene oil lamps. And of course, a flashlight or two and batteries. If you can afford it, get a generator and a 5-gallon container of gas to run it [store it safely]. Look for something in the 3,500 watt range. They sell for around $450 at the big hardware stores. If your home isn’t badly damaged you could plug it in and have lights and possibly a working refrigerator. An emergency radio is not necessary. The radio in your car will work just as well.

Store your emergency supplies in the garage or outside in a garden shed if you have one. Place them next to something substantial like a washer and dryer set, a heavy desk, or next to a perimeter wall just in case you have a partial collapse of your home. Placed like this you can pretty much count on some of your supplies surviving and your being able to get to them.

Your telephone, including your cell phone, will be out for a long time. There’s not much you can do about that other than to get a satellite phone. But do have an out-of-state contact number that everyone in the family knows to call to leave messages. Experience has shown that sometimes after a big earthquake calls can be made to an out of state number even though you can’t make a local call.

Have a local place your family will know to go to after the quake. Your house, mom’s house, etc. Also agree on a local place to leave messages. A good place to leave messages would be your local elementary school, which may become a refuge center.

If anyone in your family takes serious medications, insulin for example, be sure to keep at least a four-week supply on hand. The pharmacies will be in the same situation as the banks. Also have enough multi-vitamins for everyone for the duration.

No water means no toilet. Plan ahead for toilet needs. A makeshift outhouse in the backyard? If you live in an apartment or condo you’re going to have a problem.

It’s highly recommended that you keep a small backpack in your car with several bottles of water, a couple of power bars, extra socks and walking shoes. If you live in La Cañada and happen to be in Arcadia or somewhere when the quake happens you’ll be better able to walk home. The streets will be blocked with downed power poles and collapsed buildings, so you won’t be able to drive. Walking might take you a day or two, but at least you’ll make it.

Remember that within 30 minutes after the 1994 Northridge earthquake, all the markets in the San Fernando Valley were stripped of food and water. That’s what’s going to happen when the big earthquake hits, except it will be all of Southern California, not just the San Fernando Valley. So prepare now before it happens.

Get in touch TRENT SANDERS is a La Cañada Flintridge resident. E-mail him at

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