If you live in California, where earthquakes measuring 4.0 or above hit once or twice a month, you can’t ignore the fact that the continental plates are shifting. Frequent, minor temblors help to remind us that someday, the Big One could instantly disable our fragile highways, aqueducts, and communications networks.
In that scenario, all of the usual tech-industry chatter about apps and accelerators and agile development and A-rounds would seem pretty meaningless. We’d be forced back into confronting life’s basics, the way San Franciscans did after the 1906 earthquake and fire. (Rebecca Solnit’s recent retelling of that castastrophe, A Paradise Built in Hell, remind us how quickly disasters can clear away what’s unimportant in our lives.)
If you live on the East Coast or somewhere mid-continent, you probably don’t think about earthquakes at all. But you should, as a 5.8 quake centered in the Piedmont region of Virginia reminded District of Columbia residents in August 2011. That quake damaged the Washington Monument and was felt as far north as Boston and parts of Canada.
Speaking of Boston, an even bigger quake hit there in 1755, destroying hundreds of buildings. And the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811 and 1812, in sections of the Louisiana Territory that would later become Arkansas and Missouri, measured 7.0 to 7.5 on the Richter scale—much bigger than the Loma Prieta quake that caused so much damage in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1989.
The point is, disaster preparedness is a good idea for everyone. If you can’t quite bring yourself to worry about earthquakes, then think about hurricanes and tornadoes instead.
Back in 2010, shortly after I arrived in San Francisco to open Xconomy’s Bay Area bureau, I assembled an earthquake kit, following the guidelines published at FEMA’s ready.gov website and 72hours.org, a service of the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management. To inspire Xperience readers to do the same, I decided to photograph the contents of my kit and publish the slide show above.
The main reason to have a kit like this is that earthquakes and other major disasters can disrupt basic services like electricity, gas, and water. Emergency management agencies say you should have enough supplies on hand to survive at least three days without electric light and refrigeration, without gas for heating or cooking, and without municipal water. Hospitals may be overwhelmed in a disaster, so you also need to be ready to deal with basic medical problems on your own.
I was able to fit just about everything I needed for my kit into a rolling plastic tote box the size of a large cooler. It’s parked near the door of my apartment in a spot that, with luck, won’t be covered in debris if there’s a quake.
Like the good geek I am, I also used my earthquake kit project as an excuse to buy a couple of cool gadgets. One was the Eton Axis American Red Cross emergency radio, which has an internal battery that you can charge using the attached hand crank. It can also run on AAA batteries or a wall plug, and it has a USB port so you can recharge your phone. Eton has discontinued the model that I got, but now there’s an even snazzier one called the FRX3; it looks like something out of Battlestar Galactica.
I spent about $300 on my kit, but you could do it for a lot less—so why not make it a weekend project? If disaster strikes, you’ll be glad you did.
In addition to the stuff shown in my photos, here are a few more items to consider for your own disaster kit: