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Guest Column: Take time now to prepare for disaster

Last week’s earthquake in Japan is yet another wakeup call for the Southland. As you read this column think about our situation if the California’s “big one” hit right now. Are you ready?

One of the lessons from the earthquake in Japan was that even in Tokyo, 231 miles away from the epicenter, there was a total gridlock of the highways and transportation systems. With everybody trying to leave at once, nobody was able to go anywhere. You can expect that to happen here also. So be prepared if you have to stay.

Seismologist report that the quake in Japan moved the whole of Japan 12 feet to the east. Using historical data the USGS predicts that California’s “big one” will move the Pacific Plate, upon which the Los Angeles Basis sits, up to 33 feet to the north.



Count on there being no water. Water mains will be broken. The pumps won’t work. The aqueducts that supply water will be ripped apart. Our reservoirs may be breached and the water lost. It will be a long time before they are fixed.

Unless you prepare you will have only the few bottles in your refrigerator, the water in your water heater tank, and the water in your toilet tank. That’s it, period.

You should have a good supply, at the minimum enough for at least 2 to 3 weeks. An adult requires one gallon of water a day. Do the math. That’s 21 gallons per person you need to have on hand if the water system is down for 3 weeks.



If you experienced the Northridge and Sylmar quakes you’ll remember that within 30 minutes of those earthquakes supermarkets in the San Fernando Valley were stripped of food and water. That’s what’s going to happen when the big one hits, except it will be all of Southern California, not just the San Fernando Valley. How long would the food you have on hand last?

Lay in a supply. Get bags of dried beans, bags of rice, cans of dried potatoes, and boxes of dried milk. Put them in large plastic containers with airtight lids so insects and rodents can’t get to them. Consider investing in freeze-dried backpacking food and military MRE’s [meals ready to eat].

After the quake you’ll want to use the food that’s in your refrigerator first, then the freezer, because it’s going to spoil without electrical power.


As for cooking, the natural gas lines [you do have an earthquake valve on the gas line don’t you?] will be down also. You should be OK with a propane BBQ. But store an extra 5 gallon propane bottle or two.


There won’t be any electricity for an extended period of time. That means no lights, no refrigerator, no computer, and no gasoline at the pumps.

Get one or two propane lanterns with extra propane bottles for light. Or some kerosene oil lamps. And of course a flashlight or two. If you can, buy a generator and a 5-gallon container of gasoline to run it. Look for something in the 3,500 watt range. They sell for about $450 at the big hardware stores. Store the gasoline in an outbuilding.



Keep some cash in small denominations, $500 or so, and have it somewhere that you can get to it. You will need it. With the electricity out it means you will have only the cash that you have in your pocket or in the drawer when the quake happens. You won’t be able to use your ATM card or credit cards until banks are up and operating again.


Be sure to have at least a month’s supply of required medical prescriptions on hand. Rotate them to keep them fresh and not “expired.” Pharmacies will be in the same situation as the banks and it will be a long time before they get re-supplied.


Telephone land lines will probably be out for a long time also. Decide on an out of state contact number where family members can call to leave messages when the phones do come back on. Experience has shown that after a big earthquake you sometimes can make a call to an out of state number even though you can’t make a local call.

Messages & Meeting

Decide on a local place that your family will know to go to; your house, mom’s house, etc. That way family members won’t waste time and energy looking for everyone. They’ll know where to go to meet. Also agree on a local place to leave messages. A good place to leave messages would be the designated emergency shelter, likely a local school.



The radio in your car will work. An additional small transistor radio would be a good idea as well.


Don’t forget Fido and Misty. They’ll need food and water also.

Storing earthquake supplies

Store your emergency supplies on the floor of the garage or better yet, outside in a garden shed away from any structures. If you store them in the house, place them next to a washer and dryer, a safe, a desk, or something substantial. Try to place them next to a perimeter wall just in case you have a partial collapse of your home.

When you’re not at home

Keep a small backpack in your car with several bottles of water, a couple of power bars, extra socks, a flashlight and walking shoes. If you’re in an neighboring town when the quake happens you should be able to walk home. The streets might be gridlocked and blocked with downed power poles and collapsed buildings, preventing vehicle movement. Walking might take you a while but at least you’ll make it.

Older buildings

Think about limiting the time you spend in the older brick buildings, those built 60-90 years ago with mortar so crumbly that it can be dug out from between the bricks with a spoon. As experience has shown, even with retrofitting these buildings are going to be piles of rubble in a big earthquake.

Final thought

The Northridge & Sylmar quakes were on small, local faults that were only a few miles in length and depth. The San Andreas fault is the boundary between two huge tectonic plates, the Pacific Plate & the North American Plate. The fault is many, many miles deep and several hundred miles in length. There will be no comparison in the intensity of ground movement and shaking. The “big one” is going to be just that, “big”. Much, much bigger than either the Northridge or Sylmar quakes.

Here’s a checklist you can use to see how prepared you are.

Earthquake Checklist

Water. 21 gallons of per person, [1 gallon per person each day for 3 weeks]

Food. Enough for each person for 3 weeks

Cooking. camp stove or BBQ with extra tank

Flashlight. Don’t forget batteries

Lantern. A propane lantern or oil lamp

Medications. Enough for three-four weeks. Multi-vitamins too.


Meeting Place. Agree on the place with family members. Also plan to leave messages in a central location.

Pet supplies. Food and water

Communications. Cell phone, portable radio or car radio

Power. Consider investing in a generator.

Travel. Keep a backpack with emergency supplies in the trunk of your car.

TRENT SANDERS is a longtime resident of La Cañada who stays prepared for earthquakes. He can be reached at