My name is David and I am a disaster addict. I break into shivers at any mention of the word subduction. I live for the moment, the moment when the fault line shifts and throws us into the throes of the inevitable natural disaster. I’m no expert but people need to consider an earthquake’s aftermath and contemplate what it will be like to scrounge for food and water and not be able to take a real shower for six months. (1) My own preparation includes a water supply that isn’t up to the two-week standard yet and a few spare cans of kidney beans. I might be on a three or four bean per diem until things return to normal. I have yet to check the expiration date on those weird nutrition bars with the five-year shelf life that I would only consider eating if starvation were imminent. This earthquake preparation event was an opportunity to reinforce what I know and learn something new. A chance to improve my knot tying skills was an added bonus.
When we arrived I realized we were in the safest place possible if an earthquake were to occur. Everyone would spring into action, catch ceiling beams before they gashed my skull, bark out commands and rescue us all. The reality was a power point presentation given by members of the Red Cross. My ears and eyes didn’t totally glaze over. My stupor was staved off by thoughts of other natural disasters like terrorism, hazardous materials spills, winter storms, volcanos, fires, floods, landslides and the vague sounding public health emergency—do I need to stockpile tissues?
The talk was standing room only with an average age that could only be described as old. Young people might have better things to do or they only go to earthquake talks that serve beer. The lecture reinforced the need to plan. I realized I hadn’t even thought about how we’d get out of our new house if it were on fire. It’s much harder if you have to figure it out when the house is actually ablaze. The same goes for an earthquake. Who’s going to check on your living quarters and pets? How will anyone get across the river if all the bridges collapse? I did meet a woman once who kept a portable raft in her car for that very reason. Answers to questions like these are a necessary part of disaster planning.
From the Red Cross talk, I learned that up to 7 million people could be affected by a quake with 2 million people dealing with food and water shortages. A percentage of these folks will be coming for my water supply. We’ll all get one teeny sip per day. Up to a million people could be in need of shelter. When one considers FEMA’s record we could all be SOL. A two-week water supply seems like a drop in a bucket given the possibility of a longer recovery period. I also have low expectations of the abilities of an overwhelmed police force. I heard rumblings of SW Portland becoming inaccessible to police assistance if the roads end up a crumbled mess.
Jon Grasle from the American Red Cross offered a casual aside. “It’s going to be a ride,” he said of a possible earthquake. He pointed out that over the last 10,000 years there have been 41 earthquakes over 8.5 on the Richter Scale. These averaged a little over every 240 years. The last occurred in January of 1700. When talking averages, he explained that some quakes have happened as much as 800 years apart. It was a relief hearing that it was possible that an earthquake might not occur in most of our lifetimes even though we’re overdue.
Red Cross representative Libet Steiff started her talk saying, “If we’re lucky we’ll die of something else before this is ever an issue.” Ah, to die any other way than from an earthquake. That’s somehow reassuring. She covered topics worth pondering including pet plans, out-of-town contacts for communication, building survival kits and figuring out a safe place to store them. There’s also water to collect and store, a back supply of medications to stock pile, copies of important documents to make and the sanitation considerations that will have you scrambling for a poo pamphlet or two.
I’m not one to preach to coworkers, friends or strangers but embracing the idea that a debilitating earthquake could happen is important. People need to get their heads around this possible scenario and work up some preparation basics. It’s not necessary to go overboard and build an earthquake-proof bomb shelter but a bit of planning will pay off if things get rocky.
I never got my question answered about how to fend off the marauding band of thirsty psychotic crazies who might come to my house brandishing drinking straws aimed at my water supply. It’s a question for the next preparation event, I suppose. One lecture on a Sunday afternoon was enough. I picked up some reference material in a cavernous room of the Multnomah Arts Center where there were preparation displays, NET (Neighborhood Emergency Teams) groups gathered, people pushing post earthquake supplies and our knot tying instructors. As we left I looked through the window of the classroom where another lecture was in progress. A slide on the screen was titled liquefaction. My wife, Ronna, accused me of drooling at the thought of sitting in on a lecture about this topic. I broke into a cold sweat but managed to drag myself away from the event and into the daylight.
* * * * *
(1) This is not based on any scientific fact. I was trying to think of the longest amount of time someone could go without a real shower before going legally insane.