Worst Case Scenario

I was thinking not too terribly long ago about how when we were children, our parents and our schools would put emergency action plans into place. Growing up in Ohio, the biggest threat were tornados, so if one happened to hit while we were at school or at the house, the Levo’s had a plan for action. When I worked at summer camp... in case of fire, every counselor had a task and a responsibility to make sure that our campers would be safe and accounted for. However, now I am in my 30’s and I find myself living as a pretty much single girl in the earthquake friendly zone of the Pacific Northwest, aside from my dog ... there is no one in 2000 plus miles that I have a direct responsibility to take care of. No kids, no parents, no spouses... nobody. Okay, I do have a sig other; but basically, there is no mom or dad waiting for me at home, expecting a phone call to tell them I’m okay.

Overtime, I’ve come to realize that my friends who live in town with me, especially the ones who live closest to me, are my family, and many of us are in the same boat. Aside from sig others, we have no legitimate spouses, no kids, and no one to really make sure that we are accounted for in an emergency. True, this is rather depressing and we could choose to sit around and be depressed about our impeding doom or we could decide to put an emergency action plan into place.

In light of recent earthquakes in China, Haiti and in South America... all the reports and readings say that the Pacific Northwest is ripe for the next biggest earthquake. This is something that is very real and very likely to happen, more so than Mt. Hood or St. Helen’s erupting again. And the thing is, unlike midwest tornados... you never really know when an earthquake could happen. True, the ground may shake a little prior... but you don’t get a watch or a warning. And more often than not, you don’t have time to move to a safe place. You could spend all your time and money building an earthquake proof office or home, but just watch the ground start shaking as you’re sitting on the double decker Marquam Bridge, during rush hour. Basically, there is so much we can’t plan for when it comes to earthquakes... but if we survive the initial quake, the steps we can take afterwards can help us survive everything else that also follows.

So, I suggest that if you are like me and your friends are your family and you live in an urban area prone to any kind of natural disaster.. or unnatural disaster... get together with those people closest to you and play the “what if game”. Here are some steps to help you and your loved ones come up with your own emergency action plan.


In Portland’s scenario... the earthquake would most likely hit while I was downtown at work. Ideally, I’d want to get home, however I live on the other side of the river from where I work, so this may prove more difficult than I can really imagine at this time. I figure the chances of the bridges still being up and stable are very slim. So, depending on what the water conditions are like with debris, I’d try to swim it. This may not be the best idea, but it’s one that I’m going to play by ear when the time comes.


Keep in mind that most of the local phone lines would most likely be jammed so using your cell to call your friends and loved ones would be out of the question. This is why you and your friends (who live closest to you ideally), should decide on a neutral meeting location. Ideally, this place should be a park or lot that would be free from unsafe structures, light poles, big trees, or anything that could possibly come down during the earthquake or aftershocks. Also, note that during total and mass destruction, familiar landmarks and signs may not be around anymore. Make sure that it’s a place thats easy to find regardless of familiar surroundings. (If one of your friends works near you, also having a meeting place close-by work would be a good PLAN A).


Be aware that you and your friends may work in different parts of the city, so keep in mind that not everyone will get there at about the same time. So allow for a wide time gap for everyone to meet up (I’d say something like five hours would be safe for mostly everyone to be able to make it).


After everyone meets up, this would be a good time to swing by everyone’s residences to check things out, especially if you have pets. I’d suggest if it’s not too much trouble, that people go to do this as a group, for teamwork you know. However, keep in mind that after an earthquake is a very dangerous time to go crawling around in buildings as they may be structurally unsafe; so, even if you have a group of four or five, I’d suggest that only go in one person at a time. This way, in case the building falls, only one person is trapped and the rest can help. If the building seems to be sound, don’t spend a lot of time in it, but quickly go in and try to round up your earthquake kit.


You don’t have an earthquake kit? Well... this might be a good time to put one together. Basically, this is the kind of survival stuff you’re gonna need when the shit hits the fan. Remember that in times of emergency, you’ve got to plan for things like running water to not be working, for there to not be food to buy, no gas or electricity for several days afterwards. Experts recommend that you make at least three identical emergency kits. Store one at home, one at your workplace, and one in your car. That way... regardless of where you are during the quake, there are the chances one is nearby. Things like rubbermaid containers and backpacks are good places to store this such kit. (Personally, I have a tupperware container which also doubles as my camping kit as many of the things that I use for camping, are also the things that I’d use for an emergency. On that note, it’s a good idea that if you have a big camping kit in your house, to throw in a few more emergency items and store it some place easily accessible.)

Ideas of what to place in your kit:

  • Water and food to last at least three days (your car trunk is a handy place for these bulky items).
  • Water purification tablets or backpacking filters
  • Heavy-duty gloves
  • A first-aid kit
  • Cash (automated teller machines and banks may be shut down following a quake)
  • Family photos and descriptions (to aid emergency personnel in finding missing people) as well as copies of any important documents.
  • A flashlight and portable (or solar-powered) radio
  • Extra batteries
  • Goggles and dust mask
  • A personal commode with sanitary bags

Nearby your main emergency kit in your house is where you should also keep any tents, sleeping bags, camping tableware, camping stove type items as well. Other items to have on hand would be any axes or shovels, matches, rope, warm clothing, rain gear, bandanas, disposable camera, duct tape, plastic sheeting or tarps, heavy duty plastic bags.

For food, it’s a good idea to also have on hand dry goods, like crackers and cereals, instant soups, coffee, evaporated milk and “just add water” dishes that can be sealed up tightly in ziploc or other plastic containers. Even if you don’t use much canned food, it’s excellent to have on hand for these occasions. Just make sure you’ve got a manual can opener and to include items that can be eaten cold. Another item to always make sure you have plenty of is water. Remember that if you don’t have a shut-off valve on your tap water, it will be contaminated within 12 hours. The best thing to do is buy a bunch in bulk and keep it in a hall closet or garage... someplace that it will be easy to access when you need it. Remember that if you have pets, you’ll need to be able to provide for them too.

If the earthquake hits while at home, the most important thing is stay clam, but to get out of the house quickly. From there... proceed with the other steps of gathering your stuff and your friends. I'd grab a few basic items and then go meet your friends. From here, you can go back to your house later and hopefully if you need to move into a tent city, you’ll have the proper tools to ensure your comfort and make sure you and your friends are safe till you can get further assistance. As well, when you get a chance you should probably call your parents in Ohio to let them you're okay. I'm sure they'll be worried when they hear about it on the news.

Also, for more earthquake tips... check out this cool site out of earthquake usa capitol, San Francisco.


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