THINGS WE PREPARE FOR: Camping. Retirement. Traveling.
THINGS WE DON’T PREPARE FOR: Earthquakes
Why is that? Could it be the classic syndromes of: “out of sight, out of mind”; “That can’t happen here!”; or, “If it’s going to be so big, we won’t survive anyway, so why prepare?”
I think this is one of the biggest disservices people can do to themselves. Why? I’ll elaborate on the analogy above:
When you go camping, you plan ahead, sometimes for weeks before your trip. Get the tent, camper, or RV cleaned and repaired if needed, tune up the truck, stage the ax, shovels, charcoal or firewood, rope, tarps, towels, extra clothes, water, food, get the sleeping bags and air mattresses, any medications you might need, cooking gear, plates, cups, coffee maker, etc…. If you’re hunting, your guns, ammo, and other hunting gear. You go prepared.
For retirement, many spend years planning. Every paycheck, money is deposited into your retirement accounts. Your company may match your contributions, you keep track of your funds, and stay in touch with a investment broker. Some of us may just save money in a savings account or a tin in the kitchen. Regardless, we’re taking time to prepare. You retire prepared.
Travelers prepare by making sure they have their passports, reservations, tickets, camera, itinerary, and suitcases. You travel prepared.
In addition, there are things we do in our every day lives that we prepare for. Making lunch for our kids to take to school. Preparing documents for work. Taking clothes to the dry cleaners. Grocery shopping. Medical supplies. Making sure we have gas in the car for the day or week. Cleaning the house. Things we take for granted on a daily basis… preparing for our day / week.
So why is it we spend hours preparing for our day to day lives, vacation, and retirement, but not for possible life saving necessities for an earthquake?
My quick answer is: Day to day preparations; vacation; retirement are all tangible to some degree or another. We can see progress; things coming together in such a way that we can see, touch, or visualize them. We can see the vacation tickets. We can see and touch the laundry, food, and car. We can see our funds grow for retirement. There’s instant or delayed gratification for something we are almost certain is going to happen.
Preparation gets us through our daily lives, but we need to look beyond today, tomorrow, and next week. How important is it to prepare? How much does 20/20 hindsight play in to people’s lives who have survived a major earthquake?
Let’s look at some examples from past earthquakes around the world.
Christchurch New Zealand was hit by a magnitude 7.3 earthquake in September, 2010. Fortunately, the quake was centered outside of the city and was quite deep. However, on February 22, 2011, they were hit by another, albeit smaller, quake, a 6.5, it was much shallower and centered directly under the city. Minor damage that was still being repaired from the September quake, became disastrous with this new quake. 180 people died in the February quake. Here are a couple of stories from survivors:
Probably the best example I have been able to find is from Sue Hammer. Sue gives a first hand account of surviving an earthquake. The most telling sentence in her writing says a lot: “It looks like a war zone.” Read Sue Hammer’s Story Here.
Joan Curry was in a movie theater when the earthquake struck. She was able to make it home the following day, only to find her home thick with mud from lidquifaction. Joan states: “My house still stands, but it is cracked and mis-shapen. It is to be demolished and re-built, maybe this year if I am lucky.” Read Joan Curry’s Story Here.
Geoff was travelling on business in the US when the February quake hit. Upon his return to Christchurch, he was appalled by the devastation and destruction. Three years later and he was still dealing with rebuilding. Read Geoff’s Story Here.
Some quakes from the US:
On February 28th, 2001, the Seattle, WA area was hit with a magnitude 6.8 earthquake, centered in Nisqually, WA. EQE International (now ABS Group), a leading risk management company, analyzed the affects of the Nisqually quake, how buildings, infrastructure, and utilities performed during and after the quake and published their findings, making the following conclusion:
The Nisqually earthquake provides important lessons for the Pacific Northwest as well as other regions in North America with more moderate seismicity than California (e.g., Portland, Vancouver, Victoria, Salt Lake, Boise, St Louis, and elsewhere). The region escaped with relatively little impact from a modest earthquake. However, it is clear that more severe earthquakes are possible and even probable. Severe impacts of such earthquakes can be minimized. Catastrophic damage levels seen in recent earthquakes around the globe can be prevented. The 2001 Nisqually earthquake should serve as a reminder that: Earthquakes in the United States are not a problem only in California, but also can affect other regions, often not thought to be at a significant risk. Seismic design and retrofit programs do work and the impacts of earthquakes can be minimized. The many programs that have been initiated in Washington State have helped to reduce the losses in this earthquake. Just because the region has been successful in surviving this earthquake with minimal losses, this should not be a signal for complacency. Significant vulnerability remains and the more severe earthquakes that are bound to affect the region will cause much more extensive damage and loss. Aggressive pursuit of incremental upgrades of structures and nonstructural components can provide significant return in moderate earthquakes.
You can read the entire report here.
The ‘Spring Break Quake’ of 1993, located in Scotts Mills, OR, occurred on March 25, 1993 at 5:43 AM. The quake lasted 45 seconds, and caused extensive damage to a number of older, un-reinforced structures, especially in the immediate area – Molalla, Mt. Angel, and St. Paul were the hardest hit. On the 22nd anniversary of the quake, In March of 2015, Oregon Live published, “Past Tense Oregon: Spring Break Quake 22 years ago was literally a wake up call”. One of the quotes of interest, “This is not a unique event, it is not a surprise,” said Ian P. Madin, a seismic hazard specialist with the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries. ”It reminds us that we have to get ready. And we should take that message to heart” should not be taken lightly. The whole article can be read here.
In the July 20th, 2015 issue of New Yorker Magazine an article was published outlining a catastrophic earthquake from the Cascadia Subduction Zone, located off the coast of BC, WA, OR, and NorCal that caused an outpouring of concern and fear. Knowing what to prepare for, and how, is paramount. In an article published by The News Tribune in the Puget Sound area, geologist Bill Steele is asked a number of questions, the most interesting for me was, “What do you think is the biggest threat to people who live in Pierce County from a Cascadia fault earthquake?” Part of Mr. Steele’s answer should set the tone for what we need to prepare for:
“Neighborhoods are going to be on their own for a good week or two. That’s one of the other real challenges to remember. People’s homes are likely to ride through these earthquakes, even the magnitude 9. There may be some damage to a chimney or something. But the pharmacy is not going to be there for you and the grocery store is not going to be there for you. You’re not going to be able to drive around. And communication will be difficult.”
Another question, the answer to which is key:
Q: What else should people consider when living in a beautiful area known for massive earthquakes?
A: Just that we need to be a little bit responsible. Again, if you lived out in the Alaska wilderness somewhere in a gorgeous place, you would know that you have to be able to have enough fuel to keep warm in the winter. You don’t go out without your rifle just in case the grizzly bears want to eat you or whatever. There are certain precautions you take.
There are some even simpler precautions that we need to make, and that’s put away food and water and medicine to take care of our family and pets for a week or two. That’s not a difficult thing to do. It’s not a real expensive thing to do, but it does take a little bit of forethought, a little bit of action, and setting aside a little bit of room to stack some water up.
I just encourage people not to so much worry about big earthquakes in the future, because they are going to happen when they happen, but to do one thing, do one or two things today or this week to make your family better prepared to ride out a week or two without services.
The entire article can be read here.
There is one word that Bill Steele uses that I think encompasses the entire reason why we should prepare: Responsibility.
Being prepared is the responsible thing to do. In an age and place where instant gratification is what most of us base our life on, taking the time and being responsible enough to be prepared, not just for ourselves, but for our families, friends, neighbors, and co-workers might be asking a lot. But I’d rather put a little effort into it now, than to live with the regret of wishing I had.