‘I’d drink my jacuzzi’: how earthquake scientists prepare for the ‘big one’

Two back-to-back earthquakes, of magnitude 6.4 and 7.1, hit southern California in less than 24 hours last week, and seismologists have warned of an increased chance of more shaking in the near future. We spoke with four earthquake scientists living in high-risk areas to see what the people who think about earthquakes the most plan to do after a ‘big one’ hits. Berkeley is at risk of a magnitude 7 earthquake on the Hayward fault, which scientists estimate could kill 800 people and injure 18,000 When it comes to earthquake preparedness, you have to think about how you’ll do as a family or neighborhood without utilities or outside help for at least three days. And you may not be able to get back inside your house if it’s not safe. Our camping stuff was stored in the garage, but instead I took it all and moved it outside, so we could camp, cook, and live in our yard. I also put a big box of survival gear in the trunk of my car. And then you’re supposed to store water as well – so that’s where the jacuzzi comes in. It’s not usually water you’d want to drink or cook with, but it is a huge water supply. Our barbecue has propane tanks which would allow me to cook food using the jacuzzi water for a few weeks without power. It’s not what I would usually use to drink from, since we’ve been sitting in it, but when it comes to an emergency, it would work. We might want to put a little bleach in it. We need to be reminded of the topic on a regular basis. I have it easier in that regard, as people asking me about preparedness puts it back in my own mind. Actually, after I first heard from the Guardian, I finally bought a solar cellphone charger earlier this week. I also made sure I still have a flashlight in my night table. Seattle is part of the Cascadia subduction zone, for which the risk of a magnitude 8.0 or higher earthquake could be as high as 37% We used to live in Atlanta, and while we were there we had a rare 5.0 earthquake. I was sitting in the kitchen, working, when the house started shaking. I couldn’t figure out what it was, so I walked over to my computer and logged on to the US Geological Survey website. Studies show that people tend to not to drop, cover and hold, which is what you’re supposed to do. Instead, they do what I did and freeze. When we moved back to Seattle, I knew I’d have to prepare for the risk for large earthquakes. I study risk perception, and it’s really hard to think about preparing for a high-consequence but low-probability event. It might or might not happen in your lifetime – or even your child’s lifetime. In our household such plans are a household affair rather than my personal plans. We have a designated meeting spot should a quake happen during the workday, a generator, a box of emergency boat rations, a water heater and a rain barrel that could provide backup water supplies, and canned goods. We provided one of our neighbors with backup power for their freezer in a power outage this last year. Friends and family figure large in our thinking about preparedness – how we could help them and one another. We live on a cul-de-sac and we know everyone around us. And we’ve joked about grilling the wild bunnies and ducks who live in the park behind our house, more frequently as the bunnies have multiplied and invaded everyone’s gardens this summer. My work takes me to immediate post-disaster settings, so I have witnessed, repeatedly, the on-the-ground realities of what the world is like after a major natural hazard event, and this has informed my “planning”. Last fall, for instance, I traveled to Indonesia in the aftermath of the Sulawesi earthquake. It was there that I saw thousands of people who had survived the quake, but who were suffering because of lack of sanitation, medical services and housing, and had to wait for relief efforts which spanned many weeks. This has taught me that we must not only make it through the event but also its aftermath. My plan is a full tank of gas in the car, as I plan to leave the area for days or weeks, provided that road damage does not close the highways. In the case of Seattle, I expect that there will be no water, nor electricity, nor fuel available for quite a while after a major earthquake. And when I leave the house, I will close the door, but I will not be too concerned about locking it down, because I know from experience in past disasters that there will be no looting, only people searching for food, bottled water and other essentials for survival. Los Angeles sits atop the San Andreas fault. A 7.8 earthquake along the southern section could cause about 1,800 deaths and $213bn in damage As a scientist I assess everything in my house for its utility. I keep two spare tanks for my gas grill, so in case of an earthquake I can use the grill to cook food. I used to have an on-demand tankless water heater – but I got rid of it because I want to use my water heater as a tank for water. It holds 40 gallons, which is a great supply – though you want to make sure it’s strapped down. The biggest thing, especially in LA, will be water. I’m in the process of putting a pool in my backyard, and if you distill the water to remove salts, I would not be shy about drinking pool water. Plus: with the salt in it, it’s already useful for cooking pasta. I keep a few hundred dollars in small bills, one- and five-dollar increments, because if we do have power outages and you have 20-dollar bills only, you won’t be able to purchase anything. I sleep with a hammer under my bed so I can break out of a window in my house. They sell earthquake hammers that also include a key to the gas main in the street – you’d need a tool to remove the plate and turn off the gas in the case of a gas line break. You can buy these hammers for around $10 at Home Depot. In my car, I always keep running shoes, a warm shirt and a few gallons of water. You never know where you’re going to end up and you may have to walk home.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *