In Survival Mode

The recent Los Angeles earthquakes have been in the news, and the latest ones have been strong enough for me to rethink emergency preparedness, including our earthquake kits. I’m no stranger to the earth moving, but as the experts have pointed out, Southern California has been in an earthquake drought for about twenty years.

I was asleep and over two hours away from the epicenter during the Northridge quake, and in 2008, I was downtown the day the one took place east of the city. When quakes feel like they’re barely happening, it’s easy to consider yourself a brave veteran of notable tremors. Perhaps you can imagine what I was feeling when I had finally settled down to watch a movie on TV one recent Friday night when the lights flickered and it felt like someone was playing tug-of-war with the house.

We had no significant damage other than a curtain rod falling down, but for a moment I thought every book was going to come flying off the shelves, the windows would rattle until they shattered and the ceiling might cave in. You are never prepared for a sudden interruption in life, so I scrambled to find shoes before running through the house and out the back. Experts tell you not to run outside during a quake because of the possibility of falling debris, but how else are you going to get to see the water splashing out of the pool?

For a few moments, I’m sure I looked like those TV anchors on the morning news who were caught on camera during the March 17th quake. You go through all the various stages beginning with denial. Once you’ve accepted that what you’re feeling is actually an earthquake, you then worry about the next one coming.

When we grew tired of the water sloshing about, we came inside to check the news. Coverage had already begun, and if any news commentators had dived under their desks, they were back in their seats to tell us what they knew so far. The epicenter for the 5.1 had been 15 miles away. It was preceded by a lesser quake and for the next day or so, it was followed up by aftershocks. Fortunately, I was miles away during the biggest aftershock so didn’t feel anything after the 5.1.

The scientists have been busy with television appearances lately, and they were already speaking from a press conference that Friday night to warn about the possibility of larger quakes taking place within the next few hours. The Big One might not be coming, but a larger quake than we’d just had was a possibility. It’s moments like these when you rethink what you hang on the wall over your bed or just how stable is that glass sculpture on its rickety stand.

“We really should go get some water to store,” I said. “Just in case.”

The truth of the matter is that there is no “if” about the Big One, but “when.” Part of me thinks getting it over with would be the best thing. Don’t leave us in suspense; get the damage done, rebuild and relax for another hundred years. Then I think how there is never a convenient time to be inconvenienced. I have things that need doing, and that requires getting out of the house and around the area. None of us can afford to have the freeways collapsing or have anyone lose their homes or businesses. Nor can any of us afford to lose our lives or those of the people we love!

In the apartment, the quakes always had a “rolling effect” as you hear people say. One of the scientists on TV said that they all feel like rolling quakes unless you’re on top of them. Then it’s altogether different. Though I never felt a jolt in the apartment, I never lost sight of the fact that the patched cracks in my plaster were the results of Northridge, an earthquake that collapsed freeways and apartment buildings. Each small quake would prompt me to move until I finally did, and I can only say that had I been jolted out of bed on March 17, I’d have started packing that afternoon.

I’d been worried about The Big One for a few years. With Japan and Chile experiencing major quakes in spring, it only stood to reason that California’s position on The Ring of Fire would put it in line for something in the next year or two. I’m not a scientist, and I based my theory on the ricochet effect like when a racquetball bounces off various surfaces when it’s in play.

On the Sunday evening following our Friday 5.1, I read an online article about the San Andreas Fault. “If The Big One happens there, scientists have now realized that the damage would be far more devastating than previously thought. The I-10 corridor from Palm Springs to the Pacific Coast would be rocked, and the damage even more catastrophic than stated earlier.” Isn’t that just perfect? The Big One is going to affect my neighborhood with such a ripple that we’ll look like a sheet blowing in the wind.

On Monday morning, I was concerned enough to research earthquake kits online. One contained a bucket in the same yellow used to indicate toxicity or radioactivity. It has a seat so that it becomes your toilet. This was off-putting, and I suspended further research until the evening. One expert said that all the previous experts had been wrong by indicating one gallon of water per person per day. The new standard is to have two gallons of water per person per day, and my standard is to have more than that. Throw in some windup phone chargers and radios, a substantial first aid kit along with some camping gear, and we’ll be good to go.

Thankfully, I go through lots of phases, and I acquired a great deal of quality camping gear during my outdoorsy phase of the 1990s. If the walls collapse, we’ll have a giant tent with comfortable bedding. With propane tanks, we can have hot food. Warm showers if we remember to put the bag in the sun early in the day, and there is every indication that we’ll eat well as long as the pantry shelves don’t collapse with a summer’s worth of harvest in all those mason jars.

Unless the shelves give way, we should have food until help arrives.
Unless the shelves give way, we should have food until help arrives.

On Tuesday afternoon, an 8.1 quake hit Chile. My theory was off. We were not to get the big quake today, but I’m sure it will be soon. As I was finishing up my work for the day, Gary looked in and said he was going out to get water for storing.

“If you wait until tomorrow, I’ll go with you,” I said.

“You say that every day,” came his reply.

“Well, now that they’ve had that quake in Chile, I really will.”

“Why wait?”

A while later, I heard the car drive up and then the sounds of something being stored securely in the garage. Gary came in a few minutes later and had an oversized bag full of ramen noodles.

“These will be good in case of emergency,” he assured me.

“Why? Are we planning to eat sodium-laced processed food to elevate our blood pressure? Are we to compound our survival issues by having strokes or do you just hope that we’ll die instantly if disaster turns into an all-out apocalypse?”

“There you go again, making fun of stuff when this could keep us alive.”

“I understand what you’re saying, but we have so much good food on hand. We can make risotto and soup and a number of tasty things. We may find ourselves destitute and living outdoors until help arrives, but I’d like to think we’re going to maintain a few standards.”

“Just put it with all the other stuff. We’ll be glad later that we kept it.”

I was shoving them into place when it occurred to me that my friend Carolyn once gave me a great salad recipe that called for dried ramen noodles. Note to self: remember to make sure there is an abundance of sesame oil and a source for greens in the earthquake kit.

©2014 by Patrick Brown

4 Replies to “In Survival Mode”

  1. I was anxious to hear your response to the quake. Always a joy to read your stories. Keep them coming.
    Carolyn R.


  2. Patrick! Now you have me thinking of The City Big One here in the “North.” I need to find a safer place for my shoes and purses, and then there’s the….. Oh, and I must remember…


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