How To Get Ready For The Next Big Earthquake. You Asked, We Answered

The San Andreas Fault

Another big earthquake is coming to Southern California. When it hits we want you to know what to do (and not do).

For our new podcast, The Big One: Your Survival Guide, we interviewed experts about what is known, what is expected to happen, and how you can prepare for a major earthquake.

Since launching the podcast, we have also been answering listener questions.

Here's what you wanted to know:

THE BASICS

What should people have on hand in case of an earthquake?

We got this question — with some variety — a lot. That makes sense, since it goes to the heart of surviving a big quake. I'm going to try to cover all the basics here [Note: We also tout FEMA's comprehensive safety checklist in another article.]

At the most basic you need: water, food, first aid/medicine and shelter.

Let's take them one at a time:

Water: One gallon, per person, per day, minimum. Either single gallons purchased from the store, or the more cost effective plastic storage containers you can buy and fill yourself. The downside of the latter is that you'll have to figure out how to treat the water, though you should have water treatment options on hand in case of an emergency anyway. The major upside to the DIY containers is cost. If you want more info, we've written about water issues before. FEMA's also got a good website.

(Photo by Jewel Samad /AFP/Getty Images)

Food: Canned, dried and/or freeze dried foods are necessary, as is a fuel source to cook it all. At my house we've stocked up on canned food, the most economical option. [We're keeping an eye on expiration dates to make sure they don't go to

waste.] To cook it all, we've got extra containers of propane that can hook up to our gas grill.

First aid/medicine: A basic first aid kit is a necessity. We went the extra mile and bought clotting bandages and fancy wound flushing contraptions, something I've had to use in the past after getting banged up in bike accidents.

If there are medications critical to you staying healthy, keep extras around. If that medicine, like insulin, needs to be refrigerated, consider investing in a small refrigerator and a generator that can run it.

Shelter: Here's the scenario you need to consider: your home is uninhabitable. Think about where you would sleep. Also, keep in mind that even if a home appears structurally sound, after quakes people often feel unsafe going back inside. That means you should consider it a necessity to have some sort of shelter that'll let you sleep outside. My family has invested in a tent, sleeping bags and sleeping pads, as well as solar powered lanterns. The good news? We can also use it all when we go camping.

How much should you have?

I'm shooting for three weeks worth of supplies, because even though emergency water and food stations will be set up across Southern California — likely within the first week after a big quake — you should expect long lines. Since we have a house and the space, I'd like to hunker down. That, of course, is assuming that our retrofitted home will be livable afterwards.

Where can I buy stuff?

I bought a lot of my items at a military surplus store in L.A., which was much cheaper than Amazon.

Many people have asked for my Amazon list of items. I've either bought some of these or am interested in them. It's constantly changing and I don't endorse anything there, but it's a decent starting place.

I also went to Smart and Final and bought three weeks worth of water for $50. Costco or Walmart could work too.

This is NOT an exhaustive list. For that, please check out this list from FEMA. It's worth a read.

Two more things: You should have all of your important documents on a thumb drive and a emergency plan worked out with your family.

Help! I don't have a lot of storage space where I live, what should I do?.

Store supplies wherever you can. Under the sink, in your closet, in a garage if you have it.

Keep items in your car too. My wife and I have water, food, extra lights, first aid and changes of clothes in our cars, in case we're away from home when a big quake hits. If we happen to be home then we have extra supplies right there in our driveway.

We're also consciously buying items that can pull double duty. What does that look like? It means keeping our pantry stocked and rotating out food/water as it ages. If we use one of those plastic gallons or a pallet of cans, then we pick up a new one when we head to the market.

Where is the best place to keep your water supply (30 gallons)? Is the garage better than the house/basement?

The place that has the least extreme temperature fluxuations, in my opinion, would be your best option. Our garage is insulated, so that's where we we store our's.

If your concerned about plastic leaching into your water, I get that. The solution is to rotate your water out regularly. Those 50 gallon drums are great for that. Though, in an emergency situation plastic leaching into my water is low on my list of concerns.

Others may disagree.

How much cash should I have on hand?

You should definitely have cash as you don't know how long payment systems/ATMs will be inaccessible. When figuring out how much you should keep, think about your expected weekly costs, and pull out however much is going to keep you comfortable if you can't get money for a bit after the quake,

Should I have landline phone service, not just cell?

Landlines can be more reliable after an earthquake than cell phones, as cell networks could be overwhelmed by a spike in traffic or disrupted by power outages. I do have a landline. If you're going to get one make sure it's not voice over IP, which utilizes the internet to connect calls. If the internet is down it won't be functional.

One more thing about a landline — if you have to call 911 in any emergency responders will see where the call originated if you're on a landline.

SAFETY

Is a car a safe place to be when an earthquake hits?

Interstate 5 after the 1994 Northridge quake (Tim Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

It depends on where the car is. If it's in the middle of a cluster of unsafe buildings or stuck in traffic on top of one of those classic, windy, L.A. interchanges, I'd probably like to be somewhere else.

If I was driving down a straight, level, highway in the middle of desert, I'd feel pretty safe.

Your car is not going to get launched 20 feet into the air if an earthquake hits while you're driving. Though, you might feel out of control.

If a quake does hit, you can slow down, assuming it's safe to do so. Pay attention to traffic conditions so that you don't get into an accident. Keep in mind that coming to a full stop will back up traffic, so don't do it if you don't have to.

Do not get out of your car unless you know it's safe. Don't abandon your car, unless absolutely necessary, as it'll impede traffic including emergency vehicles trying to reach people in need.

If a big one hits you'll likely be sitting in traffic — so go ahead and accept that now.

Use common sense and stay safe.

‚ÄčIf you're in bed when the earthquake strikes, is it best to stay there or roll off next to the bed and cover and hold there?

Stay in bed and ride it out. Don't try to run during the shaking.

Though, that advice comes with a few caveats. Make sure that there's nothing hanging over your bed that could fall off the wall and injure you. And make sure that there aren't any big pieces of furniture that might tip over on to you when the shaking starts. We had to drill a big Ikea mirror into some studs for just this reason.

How much glass will fall from skyscraper windows when a big earthquake hits?

It's dependent on the skyscraper and the earthquake, but this is a big concern. People can be seriously injured or killed by giant pieces of falling glass. That's one of the big reasons not to run outside when shaking starts.

What about the gas at my house?

Per PG&E: "Avoid turning off your home's gas without a clear sign that it is leaking. Depending on how many customers are without gas service, it may take an extended period of time for PG&E to turn your gas services back on."

LIQUEFACTION

Does bracing and bolting houses to secure them to the foundation matter for homes in a liquefaction zone? Is it worth it?

Retrofit your house if it needs it and consult with an engineer if you're truly concerned about liquefaction.


Interactive: Check out our handy hazards map to see if your home is in a danger zone.


Per the city of L.A., it's estimated that about 77 percent of the population lives in a liquefaction zone. But just because your home is in a liquefaction zone doesn't mean that the entire area is going to turn to pudding and destroy your home.

According to the 2008 ShakeOut Scenario published by USGS, "liquefaction requires both strong shaking and a high groundwater table." The one good thing about the drought dropping the water table is that liquefaction is less likely. That said, it's been particularly wet lately, so things could've changed.

Per the ShakeOut, which looked specifically at what would happen in a 7.8 magnitude quake on the soouthern Sand Andreas fault:

"Strong ground motions from the ShakeOut Scenario earthquake mostly occur within the inland desert and mountain regions of southern California where groundwater levels are typically low year-round. As a result, only the southern Coachella Valley will suffer significant liquefaction impacts in the ShakeOut Scenario earthquake, with localized liquefaction otherwise confined mostly to areas adjacent to perennial stream and river channels, such as in the upper Santa Ana and Santa Clara river basins."

If my property's not directly on a fault, but is in a liquefaction zone, is the risk as high?

Just because you're not on or right next to a fault doesn't mean you're not at risk. A large quake on the San Andreas could be destructive, even for people tens of miles away.


Listen to our podcast >> The Big One: Your Survival Guide


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