When California shakes, the world takes notice.
Our Golden State has a history of destructive seismic activity, from the 7.9 San Francisco earthquake and fire in 1906, to the 6.9 Loma Prieta quake in 1989 that interrupted the World Series, to the Southern California 6.7 Northridge event in 1994 that caused $15 billion in damage.
The recent magnitude 6.4 and 7.1 quakes centered near Ridgecrest in the Mojave Desert, east of Bakersfield, and about 150 miles northeast of Los Angeles, were felt as far away as San Diego and Las Vegas. There has been a swarm of as many as 3,000 aftershocks, rattling windows, homes, and nerves. In fact, these were the biggest quakes in about 25 years in the area.
All this shaking also caused Californians to wake up from their earthquake amnesia to ask, “What should I do now? Am I really prepared for the inevitable?”
With 40 years of public safety experience as a firefighter and FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer, I’ve seen my share of destruction from natural disasters. So here are seven things you should do now before the next big earthquake hits –– because the “Next Big One” can happen at any time in the next 30 years:
- Buy or update your earthquake supplies — Every home should have enough water and food to last for at least three days in case of a massive power outage or an evacuation. Other survival kit supplies should include flashlights, battery-powered or hand-cranked radios, extra batteries, a first aid kit, blankets, cell phones with chargers, medications, sanitation items, and copies of your personal documents. See more at the American Red Cross website.
- Discuss a family earthquake plan – Gather the family who live in your home and talk frankly about what to do when (not if) the next big quake comes. If some of you are at work or at school when it occurs, where will you meet if your house is uninhabitable? And talk about where your children will stay if your home is not safe –– grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends nearby are all likely candidates. Even if you live alone, you should have a plan on where you can go that was not affected by the seismic activity.
- Designate an out of town contact for everyone to call / text – Pick a friend or a relative who does not live nearby. Assuming they’re safe and their cell phones work, they can be the point person for everyone in your family to contact to let others know that you’re OK.
- Investigate an earthquake insurance policy – Yes, the deductible is typically high –- about 15% of your home’s value –– so you have to ask yourself how much is it worth? What would you do if it were destroyed, knocked off its foundation, or otherwise damaged? Could you afford to replace it if it were lost?You can sometimes choose a lower deductible of approximately 10% of the structure limits, but this deductible is typically set to be a percentage of your policy’s limits.Talk to your insurance broker to see what the monthly rates are, what coverage is available, and what he or she recommends. If you live in a condo, ask the Homeowners’ Association if it carries some type of coverage.
- Keep shoes and socks under your bed in case of broken glass – If a quake is strong enough, it will shatter windows, cause lamps to fall, and otherwise make it dangerous to walk in your bedroom or other rooms of your house. So keeping a pair of shoes and socks, as well as sweats and a jacket under your bed, is a smart way to prepare now.
- Determine where to get help for your elderly and disabled family members – If your home is not navigable because of damaged walls, chimneys, furniture, or other problems, you’ll have to figure out where to take your parents, grandparents, disabled, or injured family members. Have a list of possible resources programmed into your cell phone in case of this type of emergency.
- Assign someone to take post-quake photos of damage for insurance or federal assistance – Whether you have insurance or you qualify for federal assistance through FEMA, a state or local government, you should have someone in your family take post-earthquake photos immediately after the damage. Any smartphone can take excellent photos or videos to document what happened to your property in case you can file a claim.
I hope this list of seven things you should do now before the next big earthquake was helpful. Even if you only do a few of these items, you’re starting to get prepared.