Category: Preparing for Earthquakes

The Big One: It’s not if, but when . . . an earthquake will strike.

San Andreas earthquake fault will likely be the reason for the Big One
This fault is quiet for now . . .

Taking the long view. . .

These last few months have been consumed with COVID and with politics and it’s tough to escape from the grip of what’s happening this week, this day, even this hour.

From an emergency preparedness standpoint, we can always profit by taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture. So today, readjust your focus to consider earthquakes, and the inevitable “Big One.”

In California

We happen to live in Southern California where earthquakes are more frequent than in other parts of the U.S or some parts of the world.  We know, for example, that a major quake along the San Andreas fault (which runs right through the City of Los Angeles) is due sometime in the not too distant future.  We’ve had some warnings: Northridge, in 1994 and then Ridgecrest, just a couple of years ago in 2019. (That one offered plenty of warnings, if you want to know! Virginia wrote several Advisories about the 2019 experience!) So we know we have to be prepared for the Big One. 

People who live in Northern California had a major earthquake over a decade ago — the Loma Prieta quake that hit during the 3rd game of the 1989 World Series. That quake was caused by the San Andreas fault, too. (It runs up through the state and then heads out into the Pacific right at San Francisco.) So Northern Californians know they have to be prepared.

In the Northwest

More and more in the news lately — the Cascadia Subduction zone.  This very long fault slips a couple of hundred feet every three hundred years or so. (Last big “slip” was in 1700 — so again, it’s overdue.) When the next one occurs, it will likely measure 9.0 and impact Washington and the whole Pacific Northwest. This will truly be The Big One!

In the Midwest

If you live in the Midwest near the Mississippi River, you could be at risk from one of the most dangerous faults of all.  Even though we don’t hear too much about it, the New Madrid fault in the central United States is among the most active in the country, running from St. Louis to Memphis.

And those of you who live in fracking country have become increasingly aware of the — heretofore small but now increasing in number and in intensity — earthquakes in your region. States most impacted: Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Texas.

In the Mid-Atlantic

And, imagine the surprise of people living in the Mid-Atlantic area when Washington D.C. experienced a significant – but non-lethal – 5.9 earthquake on August 23, 2011.

How to prepare for the Big One?

The fact of the matter is that we know all too little about the existence of earthquake faults around the world. New faults are discovered on a regular basis, even right here in the middle of earthquake country!

And we have even less ability to forecast earthquake activity level. Yes, new technology continues to be developed, including the ShakeAlert Early Warning System. Its collection of sensors up and down California could give us a few seconds or even a few minutes warning. (We have had this system on our smart phones for over a year, but it has never alerted us IN ADVANCE because it’s apparently set to “note” quakes only over 4.0.)

Other iPhone apps track quakes worldwide. Nearly every morning I get an alert on my phone from QuakeAlert, with maps, info, etc. Just look for “Earthquake” in the app store to see a number of options. Caution — some of the apps are free, and others not.

The bottom line? Everyone has to take some responsibility for knowing what the earthquake threat is in their own region of the country. And we all have to take some responsibility for our own survival and well-being when the Big One hits. There is only so much our government agencies can do — and most of that help will come well AFTER the fact!

Five Action Items to help prepare for the Big One.

  1. Find out about the history of earthquakes where you live. You may never have experienced a quake — but there are likely people who have!
  2. Analyze your day. If a quake hits at 10 a.m., what problems would you encounter? What about if it hits at 1 a.m.?
  3. Do you, and family members, know how to protect yourself when you feel the shaking? You don’t really have time to think much about what to do! You want your response to be immediate! (And you want to avoid the discredited theories like getting into a doorway!)
  4. In a severe quake, power will be out and roads may be impassible for hours or days. Do you have supplies to carry you though as you shelter in place?
  5. Should you plan now to make changes to your home that will make it safer in an earthquake?

We have written again and again about earthquakes here at Emergency Plan Guide. (Use the Search bar to find some of those articles.) We’ve discussed earthquakes again and again at our neighborhood meetings, where we focus on what to expect from the authorities, and how we need to prepare to take care of each other!

Most recently, Virginia and I published a whole booklet as part of our Mini-Series, titled “Prepare Your Home for Earthquake!” We certainly can recommend that as an easy and complete resource that will address all the 5 action items above. And more . . .!

However you decide to prepare for the Big One, you can feel justified in starting any time. Think long-range. Because the Big One is bound to come!

Joe Krueger
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

Sign up for our weekly Advisories below. They are free. And you’ll get a LOT more information about earthquakes as well as other potential disasters!

Garlock – A Major Earthquake Fault Awakened

Original map from Math/Science Nucleus showing major faults in California

During the summer I wrote a couple of times about the earthquakes we experienced on the 4th and 5th of July. If you recall, those quakes, a 6.4 magnitude followed the next day by a 7.1, were centered in Ridgecrest, a town of about 30,000 located north of Los Angeles. (I added the approximate location to the map above.)

At the time, we saw news videos of homes on fire, store shelves emptying onto the floor, and images of cracks in local highways.

Ridgecrest faded from the front page of the news, but suddenly it’s right there again because there have been over 110,000 aftershocks in the web of interconnected faults in the Ridgecrest area. And as a result:

A once dormant fault has been awakened! And it’s a major one!

Look just below the red Ridgecrest label on the map to see the Garlock Fault. For well over 500 years the fault, running in an east-west direction for nearly 200 miles, has been silent.

But since the Ridgecrest quakes, that major earthquake fault has begun to move. Garlock has been reported as capable of producing a magnitude 8 earthquake!

Here are the questions I’ve had, and the answers I’ve found.

Is the Garlock Fault actually part of the Ridgecrest network?

No. The Ridgecrest network of smaller quakes stopped a few miles from the Garlock. But their activity destabilized the Garlock fault, which is a major fault. And as you can see on the map, the Garlock fault DOES connect to the San Andreas fault.

What kind of movement does the Garlock show?

The Garlock fault is just creeping at a slow pace, without any shaking going on. No one living in that area has really noticed it. But satellite imagery is so precise that it can measure the movement. Add the satellite info to measurements taken from seismometers and scientists now have an accurate picture of what’s happening. The fault has crept about .8 of an inch since July.

Doesn’t creeping lessen the strain on the faults?

Apparently not. Sometimes creeping can reduce the strain on the faults, but it could also trigger an earthquake.

Does all this mean that a major quake is more likely?

All the reports that I read said the same thing: “We just don’t know. The chances of ‘The Big One’ hitting are the same as they have been for years. It could arrive at any minute.”

What should we be doing as a result of this discovery?

Let’s review. When a major earthquake hits, buildings and roads collapse, cutting off communications and transportation and causing injury.  However, most injuries are not from falling buildings. Rather, they are from items flying across a room or falling from shelves. Preparing in advance can reduce these dangers.

The good news is if you haven’t started preparing yet, you can start today using the step-by-step list below! (Find more to-do lists at BusinessInsider and also at Earthquake Country Alliance.)

Do a few things every day. Any preparations we make give us a better chance of making it through.

Step 1: Secure your house and where you work.

Just stand in the middle of a room and slowly turn around, and you’ll see what needs to be done to protect yourself from falling or moving items!

  • Fasten down heavy pieces of furniture (refrigerator, bookcases, computer stands) using earthquake straps.
  • Anchor light fixtures to the ceiling.
  • Hang heavy items using brackets and screws and special earthquake hangers (monitors, mirrors, pictures).
  • Remove heavy books and decorative items from high shelves and move to bottom shelves.
  • Put small items into cupboards or use Museum putty to stick them to shelves (vases, collectibles).
  • Store glass food containers in closed cabinets with latches.

Step 2: Have supplies to carry you through.

After a major earthquake, you are likely to be on your own, with no immediate help, for hours or even days. (1) Build a 72-hour survival kit that you can grab if necessary. Have one for each person at home, at work and one in the car. (2) Store other supplies in convenient places so you’ll be able to shelter in place for at least 10 days.

Here are the 8 categories you’ll want to consider for both the kit and for the shelter-in-place supplies: water, food, shelter/warmth, health/safety, light, communications (assume no power), sanitation, and personal items. (You may also want to add tools to help you make repairs after the quake.) Here’s a link to our two complete lists with dozens of items to consider.

This is a lot of stuff to think about! Make your own customized list and start to pull things together day by day. Don’t forget pets.

Step 3. Make a disaster plan.

Decide on an out-of-town friend or relative as the contact person for your family. Be sure everyone knows the contact’s cell phone number! Teach everyone in your household how to text, because when communication lines are overloaded a text may get through when a voice message won’t.

Train family members on how to use emergency equipment that might be necessary after a major earthquake: emergency radio, fire extinguisher, gas turn-off wrench.

Step 4. Start now to protect yourself financially.

This can include reviewing insurance coverage, setting aside emergency funds, and organizing all important documents. (Many disaster victims can’t prove they own their home, don’t have car ownership documents, lose IDs showing eligibility for pensions, etc.) Scan important documents and store them on an easy-to-manage flash drive or “in the cloud.”

Step 5. Know what to do when the quake hits! 

There are many out-dated notions still floating around about standing in doorways, finding a “triangle of life,” etc. In a major earthquake you will NOT BE ABLE TO MOVE SAFELY. Try to keep away from glass windows and doors as you . . .

How to respond to an earthquake!
Earthquake? Act NOW to save your life.

If you are outside, stay away from buildings, power lines, etc. that could fall.

Step 6. Organize your neighborhood for more resilience.

Recent disasters of all kinds have shown that neighbors can and will help, particularly if they know each other and have trained on what to do. (1) Get CERT training as a start. (2) Get one of Emergency Plan Guide’s Neighborhood Disaster Survival guides and use its suggestions to help your neighborhood get organized.

And something new if you are in California: the MyShake cellphone app.

Last Thursday was Great California Shake-Out Day. Over 10 million people participated! And Governor Gavin Newsom announced the launch of the nation’s first statewide earthquake early warning system.

The ShakeAlert system, developed by the University of California Berkeley and the Wire Emergency Alert system, has been available for schools, hospitals and other public agencies for a while. Now it has been made available to all citizens through a simple cellphone app – the MyShake app.

The MyShake app can be downloaded from Google Play (Android) and through iTunes from the Apple app store (iOS).

Basically, hundreds seismic sensors track ground movement, transmit it for analysis, and then if a quake of 4.5 magnitude or stronger is expected, the system sends an alert to selected grid locations. The alert message will be simple: “There is an earthquake. Drop, cover and hold on.”

(It all works because shaking waves travel at around .5 to 3 miles per second — but electronic transmissions are instantaneous. Want more details about ShakeAlert? Get this fact sheet from the US Geological Survey. )

What good will a few seconds warning do?

In a few seconds . . .

  • You’ll be able to grab a child and huddle under a sturdy table or desk.
  • You will have time to turn off the stove or blow out a candle.
  • Doctors and dentists can lift the scalpel or drill.
  • Officials can slow or stop trains.
  • Elevators can be shut off.
  • Automatic doors can be opened.
  • Equipment can be shut off or set to safe mode.

What would YOU do right now to protect yourself if an earthquake were arriving in 5-10 seconds?

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. During the time I was working on this Advisory, two more quakes were felt in Northern California – 4.5 and a 4.7 magnitude. Earthquake activity is continuous. You can be prepared.

Earthquakes continue in Southern California


Even as I write this, aftershocks are showing up, one after another, on my live earthquake map. Make sure you and the ones you love are always ready to drop, cover and hold on, even on a holiday!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. More info in case you need it:

Day 4 of Summer Vacation: A time for some shorter and lighter Advisories as a welcome change-of-pace!

CERT Challenge: Overcoming Apathy and Procrastination

“How prepared are they?”

We sat at the 2nd Wednesday monthly meeting of our CERT Leaders and stared gloomily as one of our members gave yet another status report about some of “her” residents in the community. “Not one extra can of food. Not one extra bottle of water.”

Her neighborhood had many elderly residents. In some cases, residents are handicapped by lack of funds. In others, the reason is plain apathy, procrastination or worse. You may hear: “It’s the government’s job to provide for us in an emergency.”

Are “governments” responsible to care for us in a disaster? How capable are they?

We saw an answer to the second question in interviews by the media following Hurricane Sandy’s damage in New Jersey. Local and state governments were overwhelmed and unable to respond. Likewise, relief agencies like the Red Cross and Salvation Army were also overtaxed by the enormity of the event. Some people went weeks without services.

More recently, we watched the Federal Government pretty much abandon the victims of Hurricane Maria, in Puerto Rico.

And here in California, huge fires have pulled emergency responders from communities distant from the fires and even from other states — leaving the people left at home without full protection for days and even weeks.’

These disasters damage communities and even destroy them. And usually, it’s people who are less affluent who suffer the most.

And these disasters pose an important question for all of us: What can we do to help? Are we doing it?

And the most difficult version of that same question:

Are we prepared to share with people who ignored warnings?

Are we ready to care for irresponsible neighbors as well as ourselves in a disaster scenario? That question presents responsible citizens with untenable choices.

Here in our neighborhood we are admittedly better prepared than most. Over 70% of our residents indicate that they have some food and water set aside for emergencies, largely as a result of ongoing education programs that span a decade.

But 70% isn’t 100%. More needs to be done.

Never stop educating people on the realities of a disaster.

Here in our neighborhood we regularly publish “educational bulletins” and, when circumstances allow, bring in guest speakers to talk about preparedness. Some of the best bulletins:

  • Recognize a gas line leak. (Gas company)
  • Clean up around the house to prevent a wildfire. (Fire Department)
  • Vial of life — important emergency info for the refrigerator.

Some of our most successful meetings:

  • What’s in your emergency kit? (Show and tell!)
  • Try out a fire extinguisher! (Thanks to Fire Department)
  • Retrofit your home to withstand an earthquake. (Neighborhood contractor)

Maybe if we make a party out of preparing for emergencies . . .

Every neighborhood volunteer group is always looking for ways to engage new neighbors. We hear about some of the good ones!

During a power outage, one neighborhood held a “Power Outage Picnic.” People brought meat to the party and a couple of volunteers with gas-burning grills cooked it up for everyone to share! By lantern light!

We held an “emergency preparedness fair” sponsored by the local hardware store. They brought dozens of items as demos, then handed attendees a coupon for 20% off if they would come to the store to buy.

After all these years of coming up with educational ideas and trainings, we finally put together a whole book with ideas for 21 activities to help overcome apathy and procrastination. That book has been our consistent best seller! If you are looking for some inspiration, consider getting a copy for YOUR neighborhood.

Emergency Preparedness Meeting Ideas

Each one of the activities comes with objectives, procedures, materials you’ll need, and commentary. And there’s a separate planning sheet for each activity to make it easy for volunteers to step up and take a turn as host. You can find out more about Meeting Ideas here.

The point of all this? Leaders have to recognize that preparedness is an ongoing challenge. You may have to wheedle or even use a little guilt now and then to get people to take action. But with a few ideas and some energetic team members, you can make a big difference in how resilient your community will be.

We think it’s worth it. That’s what this website is all about!

Camp Stoves in a Disaster

Cam stove for cooking in an emergency

Cooking in an emergency

Did you notice in our recent series that guest author Clare listed an alcohol stove as part of what she carries in her Get Home Bag?

I’ve written often about camp stoves in a disaster, but I’ve focused on the kinds I’ve used personally. Since I’m not a frequent back-packer, I don’t own an alcohol stove. And since I only occasionally cook outside (though I love being invited by a backyard chef!), I haven’t reviewed outdoor cookers, either.

Time to take another look at using camp stoves in a disaster!

Alcohol stoves for cooking in an emergency

I somehow missed ever owning an alcohol stove, perhaps the simplest way to heat water in an emergency! Here’s a basic alcohol stove that I really like.

It’s made by Solo of aluminum. See how compact and handy it is?!! Makes you want to hold it in your hand, doesn’t it?

Basics of all alcohol stoves:

  • Round metal fuel container weighing only a few ounces, often just 1 ounce. (Imagine a cut-off soft-drink can.) Different versions have double walls, a top with a chimney, holes punched in the sides to create a ring of flames like a gas stove. The more “designed” the heavier it’s likely to be.
  • Fuel to put into the container. Denatured alcohol (toxic to drink!), methanol (also toxic – sold as anti-freeze), ethanol. Fuels are readily found at sporting goods stores, Walmart, auto supply stores.
  • Way to light the fuel.
  • Stand to hold cup or pot above the flame.

Alcohol stoves are simple. Because they are so small and lightweight, you have to be careful not to tip them over, and you have to watch out for spilled fuel. You may need to shelter your stove from the wind. And you have to have the right size cup or pot to fit over the stove.

The key: even the simplest alcohol stoves can boil water in 5-6 minutes, enough to make hot drinks or soup for 1-2 people.

I really like the idea of something compact, light, and simple to operate in an emergency. You can actually build your own out of soda cans! (Great 3-minute video: You’ll see an ad before the video starts, of course.) Or, you can buy a stove. Many are less than $20!

Click on the images here to get more details and current prices at Amazon. (Shop. Sometimes you’ll see the same product for less, right beside the one you’re looking at!)

The Solo stove shown above costs around $20. For about $10 more you can get the Vargo Triad, shown below. It’s made of titanium, with folding arms and legs that double as pot supports and anchors. This stove burns more than one kind of fuel. It also gets the best ratings on a variety of review sites.

Either of these would make a great gift for a scout, a camper, or someone putting together a (better!) survival kit for the car!

Wood-burning stoves for cooking in an emergency

If you’ll be outdoors in at least a semi-wilderness setting, with fuel sources available, having a wood-burning camping stove makes lots of sense. No storing of fuels, no worrying about leaks.

Like the alcohol stoves, wood-burning camp stoves are very simple. Imagine a coffee can with some holes punched in it to let grasses or sticks and air in, and smoke out.

Like the alcohol stoves, these stoves also have ONE burner. You will be using ONE pot. Experts seem to be able to boil, fry and even bake – but still, all on one burner. If you have a larger group, you may need more than one stove or take another look at the classic Coleman two- or three-burner box later on in this article.

I picked the wood-burning stove below because it got very high reviews from users and seems to be the most flexible of all when it comes to options for fuel: biomass (sticks, leaves), alcohol or sterno, etc. It’s truly collapsible and because it’s of titanium, not heavy at all. You can also get a pot, made by the same company, just the right size for the stove and actually designed so you can store the stove IN the pot when you pack it all up.

The Solo Stove

Solo Stove Titan
This is a larger version of the original, able to heat/cook for 2-4 people. It comes with a companion pot that you can nest the stove in for efficient packing.

Cooking with classic camp stoves in a disaster

I pulled out our camp stoves. We have two of them, collected over the years.

Three burner camp stove

This shows our trusty Coleman stove. It’s a three-burner which makes it really convenient. You can see how my own small pot fits on the stove; with those three burners, we can use a large frying pan or even a griddle. Sometimes adjusting the flame takes some careful effort. Here’s a link to the Coleman 3-burner Even Temp propane stove for purchase at Amazon.

Our second stove is a one-burner model that we purchased across the street at an Asian market. It is smaller than the three-burner (Note the pot and the water bottle that appear in each photo for comparison.) and it weighs half as much, making it easier to pack and carry.

One burner camp stove

With either stove, we can accomplish the essentials: boil water for coffee, cook ramen noodles with dried vegetables (from the same Asian market), and have enough water left over for some washing up.

Here’s that same stove from Amazon (at today’s prices!) It comes with a carrying case.

Backyard BBQ for survival cooking

If you already have a backyard BBQ, whether fueled with charcoal or gas, you are probably already prepared for some cooking in an emergency when the power is out!

Most of the gas powered grills use propane or butane. Some are connected to your natural gas supply.

These grills can be just the size for a steak or two, or big enough to feed a crowd. They can be on a rolling frame that holds the fuel tank and a couple of side table, or built right into a larger backyard entertainment center.

Here’s a picture of a pretty fancy example of a rolling grill — certainly not the most elaborate out there! The photo is not a link because grills are going to be a very custom purchase!

Gas grill for cooking in an emergency

If you have been thinking about getting a BBQ for summer entertaining, now might be the perfect time to start looking! You could plan some great meals, and with a self-contained unit you’d have back-up cooking capability in an emergency.

Having any of these stoves will give you more flexibility for summer entertainment, for camping, and, of course, in an emergency. All of them require some experimenting and practice before they will work exactly as you expected.

Hope you can find the right one to supplement YOUR emergency cooking needs!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. Write and let us know what experiences you’ve had with camp stoves. Every bit of knowledge helps!

Covered for a natural disaster, or not?


Covered for natural disaster

Time for an insurance review.

I’m putting together my to-do list for the holiday vacation. After all this year’s natural disasters, first on the list is an insurance review. I started the review, and more and more questions kept coming up! Naturally, this led to an Advisory!

Ask your insurance agent these 7 questions to see how well YOU are covered for a natural disaster.

“How many of your clients are under-insured? Am I one?”

This is a tricky question, of course! Maybe you could soften it starting with this quote from Nationwide:
“I understand that 60% of American homes are under-insured by an average of at least 20%. I want to be sure I’m not one of them!”

“I’m worried about all the recent (fill in the blank: wildfires, storms, tornadoes). Am I covered for a natural disaster? What if my house is totally destroyed?”

This is the main question you want answers to. Start with these sub-questions . . .

  • What is the amount of my home coverage?
  • Is that based on the value of the house, or replacement cost? (Be careful. “Value” of a home could include the value of the land, in which case your coverage might not be enough to replace the house.)
  • Exactly how is replacement cost figured in my policy? (It turns out that there is “replacement cost” and then there’s “extended replacement cost.” Make sure your agent can explain which you have, and the difference between them.)

“If I have to live somewhere else while the house is being rebuilt, will my policy cover additional living expenses?”

How much and for how long? Any restrictions on where I stay? How do I get the money in my hand?

“Will my policy cover (fill in the blank: floods or storm surge from a hurricane, earthquake, land slide following rain, volcanoes)?”

You will probably NOT BE COVERED for a natural disaster from the list above!

I love this paragraph from esurance

Homeowners insurance typically doesn’t cover landslides or mudslides. That’s because both are considered a form of “earth movement”, and like an earthquake or sinkhole, they’re generally excluded from a standard homeowners insurance policy. Flood policies often don’t cover damage from landslides or mudslides, either. And earthquake policies only offer reimbursement if an earthquake caused the events.

Quiz your agent closely on coverage for natural disasters. Be sure you know just where “water damage” (covered) leaves off and “flood water damage” (not covered) starts, where “rain damage” (covered) ends and “mud damage” (not covered) starts – on YOUR policy!

Perhaps you need separate policies to be sure you are covered for natural disasters?  We have addressed some of these special threats, including insurance policy info, in earlier Advisories about Volcanoes, Earthquakes , and Floods.

“What else don’t I know about? What about . . .”

  • Mold
  • Sewage backups
  • Debris removal after a disaster
  • Lightning
  • Hail
  • ????

Get your agent to mention some of the frequent problems he or she has encountered here in your neighborhood. Some of these may be covered by your policy, others not. You may want to add an endorsement to your policy to cover a specific risk.

“This is adding up. What can I do to reduce premiums?”

The first thing to discuss are your deductibles, particularly if there has been a change – from dollar amounts to percentages, for example. A 5% deductible may sound better than a $15,000 deductible, but not if your house is worth $400,000!

Generally, the higher the deductible, the lower the premium. You want the highest deductible you can afford.

And you may want to check with your agent to see if you can make changes or improvements to your home that will improve your coverage for natural disasters while lowering the insurance company’s risk. These might include replacing the roof, upgrading the electric system, clearing brush around the house, retrofitting for earthquake, or installing storm shutters. Ask for a list of all the home discounts you’re eligible for, not just those associated with natural disasters!

Now, I don’t review my insurance every year – but this year I’m going to with the help of these questions. I hope you use them, too!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S.  If you discover that you seem to be well covered for natural disasters (Hooray!), you still might want to pose this last question:

“Is the bill for my current homeowner’s policy going up?”

If the answer is YES, and it’s more than 5% or so, ask why. You might hear these reasons:

  • Recent disasters have made prices rise for all insurance companies.
  • Risks have gone up in your neighborhood.
  • Your personal risk profile has changed. (Confirm what’s changed – is it your credit score? That could have an impact in some states.)

P.P.S. Consumers Reports says that people who shop for better deals on property insurance can save hundreds of dollars a year. You can get quotes for free through or (as recommended  by This Old House)

And finally, a disclaimer. I am not a licensed insurance agent, hence all the links in this Advisory to what I trust are reputable sources. Be sure to get advice on insurance from professionals.

Where to put Mom? Emergency Preparedness in Care Facilities


What are the chances of you or Mom ending up in a nursing home?

Man with disability in wheelchair

Updated statistics will be coming out after the next census, but right now it looks as though the chances of a senior citizen spending time in a nursing home or skilled care facility are about 1 in 4.

This should immediately bring to mind the 14 people who died last year in Florida when their nursing home air conditioning failed. You may even remember tragic images from Katrina.

Reassure yourself about emergency preparedness in care facilities you are considering!

I’ve been searching for professional advice on this topic, and I found it on one of my LinkedIn groups.  After a series of back and forth messages, Nicholas Thorpe kindly agreed to provide Emergency Plan Guide readers with questions to ask.

You’ll see that his questions fit right in with the way we try to learn more about being better prepared.  Please check out his expert article below, and share with other family members and friends. 

Long-Term Care and Emergency Preparedness — Knowing the Right Questions to Ask

By Nicholas Thorpe,  8/2/2018

When considering long-term care facilities, we all look to ratings, accreditations and high standards.  One of the most overlooked considerations, however, is emergency and disaster preparedness.  Does the facility you are considering have plans in place for adverse conditions, be it man-made or natural disaster?

New rules for emergency preparedness in care facilities are now in effect.

Following Hurricane Katrina, the Center for Medicare/Medicaid Services (CMS) began to work on new rules to govern how emergency preparedness should be handled at various medical facilities. In the fall of 2017, the new rules for emergency preparedness went into effect for seventeen (17) health care provider types (to include long-term care facilities). These rules are meant to correct the lack of preparedness that was seen following Hurricane Katrina and other major disasters.

These seventeen (17) provider types are now required to be in compliance with the emergency preparedness rule as part of their eligibility to receive reimbursement for services and care through Medicare and Medicaid. These rules can be found on the CMS website at New Rules .

My role now in a health care preparedness coalition in central North Carolina is to work with health care facilities so they are better prepared for emergencies and disasters and to help them comply with the new CMS emergency preparedness rule.

Ten questions to ask as you evaluate emergency preparedness in care facilities.

The following questions will help you evaluate the level of emergency preparedness as you consider care facilities for your family member:

  1. Are you regulated by CMS and do you comply with the new Emergency Preparedness Rule?
    1. Have you been surveyed recently?
  2. What methods will you use to contact me should something happen to my family member or following an emergency or disaster?
    1. Do you have any additional methods you can utilize to contact me?
    2. Who/how can I contact the facility to learn the status of my family member during/following an emergency or disaster?
  3. Does your facility have a way to transport residents that is not reliant on local emergency services agencies in the event an evacuation is necessary?
  4. Does your facility have any agreements in place with other sites to relocate residents in the event of an evacuation?
  5. Does your facility have a generator that powers the HVAC system (heating and air conditioning) and refrigeration for the entire facility?
  6. How many extra days of food do you have on site should your supply chain be disrupted?
  7. How is security maintained in the facility?
  8. Has your staff had active shooter response training?
  9. Is your staff trained in providing first aid, CPR, and applying tourniquets?
  10. How often do you practice emergency procedures that aren’t fire drills?

Choosing a facility should not be solely based on how prepared it is for an emergency. How it is prepared, however, should be high on your list of criteria when deciding who should take care of the people who mean the most to you.

Nicholas Thorpe works for the CapRAC Healthcare Preparedness Coalition in Raleigh, North Carolina.  He has completed more than 1,000 hours of emergency preparedness training, trained over 200 first responders and over 1,000 volunteers in emergency management procedures. Nicholas holds a Graduate Certificate in Homeland Security from the George H.W. Bush School of Public Service at Texas A&M University, and a Bachelor of Arts in history with a minor in political science from The American University in Washington, DC.

Please share this important information widely. There are other questions you can add to this list, but these will get the conversation started.

Thanks again to Nicholas!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

A couple of years ago we wrote an article that’s a good companion to this one: Leave the disabled behind? 
This is a topic we’ll be addressing more in the future.



Emergency Kit for School


Emergency kit for school

Any emergency supplies in that backpack?

Is your child missing an emergency kit for school?

In doing research for this Advisory, I was shocked to read comments like this:

“Wow, an emergency kit for school. What a good idea! I just thought the school would be taking care of this!”

And these were comments from people reading articles online!  What about all the other parents who don’t read?!

First things first. What emergency supplies does your school store?

I attended a training yesterday put on by the Earthquake Country Alliance, and sat next to a woman who works with schools. She told me about a school that called to ask her to “inventory our emergency supplies shed.” “How long has it been since you checked it?” she asked.  The answer was, “Uhhhh…”

When she opened the shed she discovered what she called “a hazmat situation.” The shed had leaked and everything inside was completely spoiled and contaminated!

That story should encourage you, when you go to your Back to School night, to ask not only what supplies are kept at school but also how often they are refreshed.

Next, what emergency supplies does the school want children to bring?

In some schools in our area, each child is required to bring an “emergency kit for school” at the start of the school year. Reading the instructions closely, I discovered that the kit is to consist of a quart-sized resealable plastic bag with the child’s and teacher’s name on the outside, some snacks, and a personal note from the parent to the child.

This “kit” would sustain the kids I know for about 15 minutes.

Here’s another list from a school district in the mid west: ”a little food, some water, a space blanket or large plastic trash bag, a non-toxic light stick and a letter or photograph from home.”

As a parent, you need to find out about “required kits” at your school. The questions to ask:

  • What goes in the kits?
  • How are they stored?
  • What if some parents put perishables into the kits?
  • What about kids whose parents send nothing at all?

What sort of custom emergency kit for school makes sense for YOUR child?

Here at Emergency Plan Guide we talk about survival kits frequently, so none of this should be new or different. However, when packing a kit for you child to take to school, there are a few things to remember.

  1. You child needs access to the emergency kit all the time! An emergency could happen on the way to school, or on the way home, not just while the child is in class. So, the best place to have that kit is in the kid’s bookbag or backpack.
  2. Of course, the kit is meant for emergencies only. It’snot to be shared or talked about at recess. This means the kit has to be separated from the rest of the stuff in the bag.
  3. Every kid’s emergency kit will be different. Your first-grader just won’t need or want the same stuff that your 6th-grader wants! And, of course, that kit contents will have to change regularly.

Some good suggestions from parents for customizing an emergency kit for school.

The kit needs its own pocket.

Pick a backpack or book bag or rolling cart with a zippered pocket for the emergency kit.  A bottom pocket would work, as well as an outside pocket of the right size.  You’ll have to shop for the right backpack based on your your kid’s size, sex and whatever is in fashion at the school!  We show a sample below of a bag with an outside pocket that would work well.

An older child may like a “tactical” bag with mesh and lots of pockets – as long as it has one pocket for the survival kit.

Find a sensible container for the emergency kit.

Depending on the size of your kid’s backpack, you will very likely be able to find an individual zippered toiletries bag or one in a set of organizers that will fit perfectly in the pocket or on the bottom of the bag. You might want to use a clear bag (meant for travelers) and a couple of sets of compressible “packing cubes.” If you’re packing a jacket or other emergency wear, being able to compress it would be a great space saver.

You may even be able to pack supplies in a tin box that will fit in a particular pocket.

In any case, the idea is to avoid your child having to paw past the kit to get to books and papers, etc.

What goes into the emergency kit for school?

If the student carries the bag every day, it can’t be too heavy. (That’s why a rolling cart is a good idea!) Still, the kit should include items from this list:

  • Food – energy bars, non-perishable snacks. Hard candies. Get some protein bars and not just carbs!
  • Water – if your child carries a water bottle every day anyway, that may suffice. Otherwise, consider packets of water. Yes, they are heavy. And they may be tough for small children to open. Practice.
  • Warmth – Poncho, space blanket, extra jacket. Maybe hand warmers. See below for these small items, very inexpensive.
  • Light – Pen with light; hand-squeeze light (if the child can squeeze it), light stick. Consider a small flashlight and/or headlamp. Practice putting on the headlamp at home! I got a hand-squeeze light yesterday, myself. The light isn’t terribly bright but would be a heck of a lot better than NO light!
  • Emergency whistle – good quality. Cheap plastic whistles are hard to blow and may not give the sound quality your child needs. (You may have to practice in the store before you buy! Sorry!)
  • First aid items – Most children won’t be able to use a full first aid kit, but they certainly know and love band aids and maybe anti-bacterial cream.
  • Wet wipes individually packaged.
  • ID card with emergency contacts and family photo – protected from getting wet by being laminated or stored in plastic bag.
  • Emergency phone if allowed and if the kid knows how to use it.
  • Small toy, book or comfort item.

Warning: The emergency kit for school is NOT the place for medicines or drugs. Most schools have strict rules about how student prescriptions are to be handled. Be sure you find out about those rules or you could have the law down on you.

Two more suggestions for parents whose kids walk home alone.

Phone Wristwatch.

The minute school lets out I have two young neighbor children who immediately call their parents using a phone wristwatch. Children aren’t allowed to have phones at school, but the watches are allowed. I’ve interviewed the parents, who REALLY like begin able to check in via voice and talk with the kids as they head to their after-school care locations. Not all children’s wristwatch phones are actually phones; some are really just little computers with games. If you think this might be a comfort to your family, shop with these questions in mind:

  1. Is the wristwatch phone limited to a particular carrier? (Verizon charges $5/mo to support the phone.)
  2. Can you connect the wristwatch phone  via app to YOUR phone? (iOS or Android)
  3. Does it monitor the child’s location via GPS? Can you set limits and get an alert when the child goes out of area?
  4. How many phone numbers can be programmed into the wristwatch phone?
  5. What sort of access to the internet is available through the phone?

The phone below is a good example. Prices vary at Amazon; some of the wristwatch phones are “certified refurbished” and are cheaper. Click to get full details and to see choice of colors.

LG GizmoPal 2 VC110 Verizon Wireless GPS Track Call Child Wearable Smartwatch – For Verizon Wireless Only – Pink (Certified Refurbished)

Welcome-home doorbell Camera

By now we’ll all seen the home security cameras that can alert you when your kid steps through the front door. Again, parents whose kids arrive home to an empty house really seem to like this technology. Of course, you’d want to get the kind that allows for two-way conversation.

We’ve written many times about front door security. Ring Doorbell seems to be the standard — but, of course, there are many different versions. The one shown below is top of the line — start your shopping there to be sure you know just what features you would want. Choices include: hard-wired or battery; low or higher video resolution; colors of faceplate; ability to save video. Note that these camera operate “in the cloud” so there will likely be a monthly charge for that service.

Ring Video Doorbell Pro, Works with Alexa (existing doorbell wiring required)

Let me know of other suggestions you have for items for kids, or what your school requires. I’d like to include that research next time!

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

Welcome to new readers! If this topic caught your eye, don’t miss the Advisories that preceded this one. You can download the checklists here.

Urban Survival Tools


Wilderness survival is still — and always — a hot topic. But according to the most recent census, only 14 percent of Americans live outside a metropolitan area — 86 percent of us look to a metro area for jobs, activities and amenities. So when it comes to disaster preparedness, we need urban survival skills!

storm damage

A safe room anywhere?

As far as I can tell, urban or suburban survival translates directly into being prepared to shelter in place.

Let’s take another look at some of the requirements for being able to effectively shelter in place.

First choice for a great place to shelter — a safe room

Even in an urban setting, you may be able to construct a traditional safe room inside your house. If you are in full construction or upgrade mode, you would build your room to code and include safety and comfort features.  You might even go to the effort to make the room unobtrusive or even invisible, with a hidden door.

If you live in an apartment, though, choices are different. For you, the best idea would probably be to turn an existing room or an interior walk-in closet (big enough for everyone)  into a strengthened room that could better withstand a storm or even an incursion by bad people.

In either case, designing and creating a special room would take money — probably anywhere from $1,000 (VERY low end) to as much as $10,000.Whatever your budget, and whatever the home you’re starting with, here are 5 major areas to focus on.

1. Door and walls: reinforced steel door frame, exterior-style reinforced door that opens INWARD, and heavy-duty deadbolt locks. Get the best you can afford that won’t totally overwhelm the space or stick out like a sore thumb. Whatever you do, be sure to secure hinges with 3-inch screws and use 3 inch screws on the strike plate of your lock, too. Here’s an example of a deadbolt lock highly rated by Consumer Reports. The lock is expensive — over $100 — but as Consumer Reports points out, it’s probably not more than your insurance deductible.

Paint the door and trim to match the rest of the house. You may even want to consider a hidden door; take a look at this model, built by the well-known Murphy bed company:

As for walls, they can be reinforced by pouring concrete into the spaces between the studs, or adding a layer of kevlar or steel sheeting and then covering it with drywall.

2. Windows are difficult to reinforce, so plan a safe room with NO windows.

3. Water and sanitation: It would be great if you had a bathroom built in. If not, store water and get a camping potty, realizing you’ll have to empty it at some point. I’m a big believer in 5-gallon buckets for a variety of uses. Here’s one that serves as a portable toilet. (If you already have a bucket, you can probably get an attachable toilet seat for about $10.)

4. Ventilation: If your room is too tight, you won’t be able to breathe. Figure out appropriate ventilation (not requiring fans — remember, the power will be off).

5. Food and other emergency supplies: Your room is a good place to store your emergency supplies — food, emergency radio, lights, first aid, warm clothing, tools, etc. Don’t forget your prescription medicines.

Interested in more about safe rooms? FEMA has produced some very detailed plans, suitable for a professional builder. (Start your search here.)  And Wikihow’s article about building a safe room, here, is a good overview.

In the aftermath of the storm

Assume the storm is over, you and your family are safe, but your home or building has been partly damaged. What might you need in order to make sure it’s habitable for a while, since you have no place else to go?

1, Basic hand tools and construction supplies

If the power is out, power tools are out, too. You’ll need battery operated tools to start — and you’ll soon be down to hand tools. You probably have some of the following tools at home now, or can get them locally. Just be sure to have them BEFORE the disaster threatens. Your local hardware stores will sell out immediately.

And as you shop, consider quality. Poor quality tools are dangerous and ineffective.

This is a simple starter list. The more skill or experience you have, the more you’ll want to add.

With a good hammer, saw and/or hacksaw, and pry bar you can remove debris. I have used tools like these many times, and as a non-professional I’ve found that the right weight and size is really important. Too heavy, you just can’t wield the tool for very long.  Too light, it won’t do the job. Below, you’ll see some examples along with my comments.

  • Hammer 16 oz one piece flat for ripping. We’ve all used hammers, but the standard home hammer has a rounded head (so it doesn’t damage the wood) and a rounded claw (for pulling out nails). If you build a lot, your home hammer probably has a wooden or a rubberized handle to lessen the vibration. If you’re not really into tools, you may have a short handled hammer or tack hammer that you use to hang pictures. But for emergency use you need something different — something  TOUGH and HEAVY enough to rip apart debris. This one looks great, and isn’t expensive. (Click on the image to get current prices.)

  • These days we don’t use hand saws much, since everybody has a power saw. However, in an emergency your power tools will be useless. You’ll need a traditional, all purpose saw. This Stanley version is only 18 inches long, not as long as a carpenter’s serious wood-cutting saw, but I think it would be just right for in-close work.


  • Use leverage instead of your own muscle power!  Again, the right length and weight of a prybar is important. We have several prybars in our shed, from 12 in. long up to 30 in. (and one giant one for rescue). I find that a 24 inch bar is carryable, packable, and still long enough so you can apply the pressure you need.
  • You will definitely want a tarp and tape to keep out the weather. This tarp is big enough but not too big, and it’s not too thick, either. (The heaviest quality might work fine for a semi-permanent install, but in our experience is just too difficult to work with in a temporary emergency situation.) As for duct tape, I just assume you already have some!  (Again, click on the image below to see full details and price for this tarp, and to compare to others.)

Store these materials where you’ll be able to get to them when the storm is over.

2. Specialty tools for dealing with debris

Work gloves – get the right size!  These gloves, for example, come in six different sizes; they have a wrist adjustment, leather palms for a good grip, etc. Actually, Joe and I  have two pairs of gloves each in our Survival Kits, to start with.

3. Dealing with metal

Not everything can be disassembled by force. In an urban setting you may need to open metal cabinets, remove fallen ceiling ductwork, get into utility closets, etc.. To do this, you’ll need to unscrew, unlock or cut wire or metal. (A pair of safety goggles is a good idea, here.)

A very good multi-tool can be easily stored and can serve a number of these construction purposes. (Avoid a multi-tool with hammer. It won’t be heavy enough to do the debris management we’re talking about.)

Some of the very best Swiss army type tools have the usual blades and saws, including metal saws, and also include different size screw drivers plus a ratchet with multiple bits.  There are different models, and prices vary from around $120 to over $200, so it’s a good idea to shop.

Start your shopping by looking at the Victorinox Spirit Plus model, shown below. This is one of the very few products on Amazon that gets awarded five full stars by users. I’d look carefully at this one. It’s pretty pricey (around $150 as I write this), but superior in every way. Click on the image to get current pricing.

As a comparison, the Leatherman Wingman Multi-tool is one we recommend for carrying in your 3-day survival kit.

It has basic blades and screwdriver, and costs $35 – $40. (Click image to get exact pricing at Amazon.) Both the Leatherman and the Victorinox weigh about the same amount – 5-7 oz. – so that’s not a deciding factor.

As always, pick tools appropriate for the person using them.

Good tools leverage the strength of the user, but only when they are properly used. Be sure children know how to use any tools before including them in a child’s survival kit or handing them over for a child to do a job. (As I am sure you  have found, some kids are really very capable — but they need training!)

OK, that’s it for now. In an upcoming Advisory we’ll be talking about staying warm in an urban setting. Stay tuned. . . and in the meanwhile, get those multi-tools!

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team




Battery Failure Ruins Flashlight


We Test More Batteries

If you’ve been following our blog entries you know that over two years ago we ran some tests on our Emergency Response Team’s battery purchases and the batteries’ life expectancy.

Battery failure

Recent failure of one battery ruined the entire flashlight

What we found was that performance between Duracell and EverReady batteries was pretty much equal, and both outperformed their private label versions sold through the big box stores (Costco & Sam’s Club).

The one dramatic difference was a higher failure rate (i.e. leakage and corrosive damage to our radios, flashlights and other tools that we relied on) for the Duracell batteries than for the EverReady batteries.

It’s important to note here that our Neighborhood Emergency Response Team typically has close to sixty active volunteers. We issue each team member a radio (FRS/GMRS) and a flashlight. We run active monthly drills with the radios and recommend that members check their batteries regularly and change them twice annually. The result is that we spend almost $1,400.00 annually on AA, AAA, C & D batteries and replacement radios, flashlights and other devices.

Batteries Die and Fail

While most batteries simply die and are unable to produce sufficient voltage or current to power the devices, we experience a 15% (+) failure due leakage and corrosion. We are able to “repair” about half of the radios using baking soda & water paste applied with Q-tips to dissolve the corrosion confined to the battery compartments. Flashlights are usually a total loss.

You can easily see an example of corrosion on the black flashlight in the photo. It takes a sharper eye to spot the point of failure of the Premium AAA Duracell battery. The arrow points to the cavity where the casing failed at the bottom (negative pole), under the silver strip.

We Switch to Premium Batteries

Lately we have been using only the premium Duracells (red/gold, 10-yr guaranteed shelf life) since the EverReady batteries are no longer available through Sam’s Club (where we used to find the best price). Our hope was that by purchasing the higher-priced premium Duracells, we would experience a longer life and a reduced failure rate. So far we have no evidence that this will indeed be the case and, to date, the failure rate seems to be about the same as the regular Duracells.

As of this week we are stocking up on additional EverReady, Amazon, Ikea and Orchard Supply Hardware batteries to measure longevity. We will share our methodology and results in a future post.

And, while the comparison on battery failure rate will take longer to measure, the results will be more anecdotal since the sample size of our tests will be smaller and subject to individual team members’ actual usage and care patterns. We will share our experience in this regard as well with the caveat that it’s not possible to completely separate individual user habits from the failure rate experience.

Joe Krueger
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. If you’re asking yourself why we don’t use rechargeable batteries, that’s a good question. But we think the answer makes sense. It’s this: We’ll only be using these radios and flashlights in a real emergency – most likely, after a major earthquake. We expect all power to be out for an extended period, days if not weeks. As soon as our rechargeables are dead (and they don’t last as long as disposables, anyway), we’ll be stuck. We don’t want that to happen! (Yes, we DO have some solar chargers. That’s a topic for another Advisory!)

P.P.S. If you are interested in the results of our planned test, be sure to sign up below to get our weekly Advisories.

Secure Your Space


The Great ShakeOut Hits California

Our community is “celebrating” the annual earthquake drill here in California on October 20. We are joining a crowd of 9.4 million participants (so far).

Secure Your SpacePlus, just two days ago we emerged from a heightened earthquake alert resulting from a swarm of 140+ small quakes near the base of the San Andreas Fault. That’s the seismic fault that’s going to give birth to the long-overdue “Big One.”

So it seems time to take another look around the house to Secure Your Space, as the ShakeOut people say.

We put together a worksheet for our neighbors, and I thought it would be a good tool to share with all our Emergency Plan Guide readers.

(The form I created for our neighborhood group has a space for recommendations to be made by a handyman that we’ve engaged to go to people’s homes. The version shown at the left in this Advisory is a little different. It figures YOU will be making the changes, hence the “to-do list” terminology!)

No and Low Cost Recommendations for Quake Safety

These are all pretty straightforward. It just takes setting a time for a “walk-through” and then making obvious changes to your living space.

As you do your walk-through, look at furniture placement, and not just heavy or decorative items that could fall and break.

When we returned home after the San Francisco quake in 1989, one of the most dramatic things that had happened was we couldn’t get into the bedroom because a bookcase had fallen over, completely blocking the door.

Handyman Help for Quake Safety

You may or may not already be a handyperson, so some of these suggestions may require that you get a few simple tools. Generally, the idea is to stand in the middle of the room and imagine that everything loose starts flying at you.

How do you tether or fasten down the items that could hurt you?

Keep in mind:

• Flexible fasteners may be better than stiff ones, which can break in a large jolt.
• Rubberized pads may stop heavier items from shooting across the room, but of course won’t keep them from falling to the floor.
• A wire barrier or a lip may keep items on a shelf as long as the shelf stays on the wall.

This Secure Your Space list is aimed at simple things you can do to improve your chances. It doesn’t get into major improvements, like blocking and strapping your water heater, or reinforcing your foundation. We’ve covered some of those elsewhere.

Today, let’s just take care of a few items that should not be left unaddressed.

Need a shopping list of earthquake safety items?

Here are some items from Amazon. You could click on the links, order them all, or items like them, get them delivered within just a couple of days, and have everything you need for an earthquake safety family activity!

Picture or Mirror Hanger

The usual hardware or hobby pack of picture hangers is designed for light pictures, but the sawtooth version of a hanger, or any hanger that counts on simple gravity to hold the wire on the hook, will not be adequate in an earthquake. You are looking for something that can carry 50, 70 or maybe even 100 pounds, and keep it on the wall!  Here are some ideas for hanging heavy items.

Hangman 3-Inch 100-Pound Walldog Wire Hanger (WDH-100-2)

And the wire to go with it . . .
Hillman Fasteners 121128 Mirror Hanging Set Heavy Duty

Big Stuff on Shelves

When it comes to electronics on the shelves in our office, we start with rubberized mats under our printers and computers. We also have a mat under the one desktop tower that is still on the desk. (The other tower is on the floor.) I also use rubberized shelf paper in the kitchen under my plates, and actually between some of the serving platters.

I really love this stuff. Get enough of it because you’ll find many uses for it.

VViViD Non-Slip Rubberized Plastic Mesh Shelf and Drawer Liner Non-Adhesive Sheets (12″ x 20ft, White)

Appliances and Furniture

I said above that for our computers, we “start” with rubberized mats. The next step is to fasten all appliances and furniture down with flexible safety straps, so they won’t go anywhere when the world starts shaking.  Of course, what you use to fasten things down depends on their size, their weight, where they are located (how far to a wall stud), etc.

TV monitors are probably the most likely thing to fly in an earthquake. Tie ’em down! Next most important are bookcases, appliances and other furniture. Here are several models of straps and cables to consider.

QuakeHOLD! 4520 Universal Flat Screen Safety Straps

Quakehold! 4163 15-Inch Furniture Strap Kit, Beige

Quakehold! 2830 7-Inch Steel Furniture Cable

And one model of strap (not from Quakehold!) that seems to be all-purpose:

TV and Furniture Anti-Tip Straps | Top Quality Heavy Duty Strap, All Metal Parts | All Flat Screen TV/Furniture Mounting Hardware Included | Lifetime Guarantee (2 Pack, Black)

Objets d’art and Collectibles

Every home has a shelf or cupboard with beloved figurines, plates, vases, whatever. If the shelf falls, or the cupboard opens, these precious items will be destroyed. So, some suggestions:

  • Can you place these objects in a closed cupboard instead of on an open shelf?
  • Run a wire or fishing line barrier along the front of the shelf to keep books from falling.
  • Add a simple lock to be sure the cupboard or cabinet door won’t swing open in an earthquake. (Check under “child-proofing your kitchen.”)

Most important, “glue” treasures down with museum wax from your local hardware or craft store. It holds!

Quakehold! 66111 2-Ounce Museum Wax


I mentioned above what we found in the bedroom when we got home after the 1989 earthquake. In the kitchen was an astonishing mess of broken dishes, broken jars of pickles and peaches, flour and spices, appliances and potted plants.

Again, all kitchens are slightly different. Do a kitchen walk-through. What could fall or move? What will happen if cupboard doors come open? Moving heavy items to lower shelves is the obvious first step. Selectively applying child-proof locks or safety straps may be the next best improvement.

A Weekend’s Worth of Work

Doing the appropriate moving, measuring, drilling and installing will take more than 5 minutes. Depending on your level of skill and interest, it might take all day or even all weekend.

But all it would take is one good shake and EVERYTHING ON THIS LIST  — mirrors, pictures, bookcases, furniture, computers, cupboards, TVs, food, glassware, souvenirs, collections — could end up in a jumble of broken trash in the middle of the room. And you’ll be lucky if you aren’t in it somewhere.

So, join in your own region’s Great ShakeOut and make some safety improvements. You’ll sleep better for your efforts.

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

I mentioned some articles on more serious infrastructure improvements for your home. Check these out:



Guest Speaker Sparks New Interest


Our neighborhood Emergency Response Group meets pretty much monthly, but when we go for weeks and months without a fire, or an earthquake, or even a downpour, sometimes it’s hard to keep up members’ enthusiasm.

Last month’s meeting “hit the spot” with a guest speaker.

Training sessionWe invited the new head of our city’s Office of Energy Management. And since he is new to the job, we provided him with . . .

Some questions to start the discussion.

Here are his answers, with a few comments from me. You might be able to use these same questions for your own group, or for your own guest speaker representing an official position. In any case, even if it takes some research, your neighborhood group members should know the answers.

Q: What kinds of emergencies does the City prepare for?

A: Our City’s Emergency Plan lists 9 threats — natural, man-made and what we call “technological incidents.” It’s not just earthquakes; we could be hit by an airplane crash, a chemical spill, a wildfire . . . you name it.

Q: Who’s in charge?

A: When the City activates its EOC (Emergency Operations Center), which is part of the Police Department, all directions come from there. The EOC coordinates local, city, county, and even state and federal resources when necessary.

Q: How often is the EOC activated?

A: It wasn’t activated at all in 2015, which was unusual. In prior years it’s been activated for a major power outage and also for a big manhunt.  Training takes place regularly, though. We train using table-top exercises, functional exercises (testing one particular function, like evacuation or communication) and full-scale exercises.

Q: In an emergency, how will we residents know what to do?

A: If all communications are out, expect a delay before you hear from us. But you have a better chance of getting the news if you have a landline (for reverse 911 calls), an emergency radio (channel 1640), and have access to social media via the internet.  Both the City and the County have smart phone apps, too, that send out automated alerts and news.

Q: Should we turn off our gas if there’s an earthquake?

A: Use your nose as a sniffer! If you smell gas, contact the property manager or 911. In the case of multiple leaks, trained residents can turn off the gas to the whole neighborhood – but then you will ALL be without gas for days. In an earthquake, if there are multiple gas leaks, the real danger is fire, so do NOT start your car or otherwise cause a spark!

Q: What about evacuating?

A: Don’t go anywhere unless you’re told to by authorities.  Our City has a number of evacuation centers and depending on the emergency we will choose which ones to use. We also have vans filled with supplies stationed throughout the City. The Red Cross has a goal of having an emergency shelter set up within 2 hours, but in a large-scale emergency that goal is not likely to be met.

It will take a while to organize everything – so be sure you have what you need to take care of yourself at home. (Note from Virginia: In our neighborhood, the plan is Shelter-in-Place for as long as it takes. We will be better off in our own beds and with our own things if at all possible.)

Q: How long a wait should we plan for?

A: We ask that you have supplies for AT LEAST 3 DAYS. Enough for 7 days would be better. That means water, food, medicines, flashlights, warm clothing, etc., for you and your pet.  We recommend a gallon of water a day per person. (Virginia: We recommend 10 days to 2 weeks’ worth of supplies as being more realistic.)

Q: What about people with special needs?

A: Our city makes no particular plans for special members of the community because we can’t anticipate what will happen. If you are on oxygen, register with your oxygen company so you will be on their list. In a big emergency, it’s your neighbors who will be most able to help right away. Make friends! (Virginia: This answer wasn’t satisfactory. Watch for more in an upcoming Advisory.)

Q: What role does the Neighborhood Emergency Response Team play?

A: The City has free Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training, and a number of people here have had that training. CERT graduates will have an idea  — and the SAME idea —of how to respond in an emergency: how to check on neighbors, assess damage, and manage communications. If you have taken the training, you will be safer yourself, and be able to step up to help.

(Virginia adds: Because our neighborhood team has its own ham radio station, it can listen in to emergency communications and actually report in on conditions here. Most neighborhoods won’t be able to do that.)

Q: How will we know what to report?

A: It all depends on having Block Captains who know their neighbors and know how to use their walkie-talkies to report in. You will always need more members of the team because you don’t know who will be here when an emergency hits.

Q: How do we find out more about CERT?

A: Contact the City.

Q: How do we find out more about our local group?

A: Contact your group leader to find out more.

At this point, we took over the meeting.

We passed out maps of our neighborhood, showing the Divisions, with the names and phone numbers of the Division Leaders. We introduced the Division Leaders. Our guest from the Police Department handed out some lists of emergency supplies and some brochures with general safety tips.

Then we adjourned to cookies and punch.

As follow up to the meeting we will publish notes similar to this Advisory, and contact some people who seemed interested in CERT training. (Unfortunately, our City’s classes are full for the next few months.)

A new face, even with the same message, helps a lot to keep up the momentum of your preparedness efforts. Who can you get to speak to YOUR group?

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

CERT Meeting IdeasP.S. If you have taken on the responsibility of planning meetings for your local group, you may want to take a look at the collection of CERT Meeting Ideas we put together last year. It has over 20 proven ideas with agendas, timing, materials needed, etc.

And stay tuned to Emergency Plan Guide, because we share our experiences — great and not-so-great — on a regular basis right here.


Emergency Radio Update


Panasonic Emergency Radio

How old do you think this radio is?

Radios — The Most Popular Piece of Emergency Gear

More of our readers “invest” in emergency radios than in any other one piece of emergency equipment. (Makes sense, of course. Without a reliable emergency radio, when disaster hits you could be completely cut off. Without a good emergency radio, you may not even know that a disaster is COMING!)

Because of this interest, we continually comment on what to look for when you’re shopping for a radio. And we regularly update our Best Emergency Radios review page to be sure the radios listed there are still available.

So it’s time for yet another radio update.

Status of our long-time favorite emergency radio

The Ambient Weather Adventurer, original cost around $30, has been our favorite for a while. We own more than one, and many of our readers have them, too. It’s a great radio to tuck into your pack or simply have on the kitchen counter.

Bad news! This model seems to have been discontinued. Here and there online you can find one for sale, but their prices make no sense! I saw one yesterday at $281!

So we aren’t recommending this model anymore. (Maybe you want to try to sell yours for a profit???)

New favorite, the Eton FRX5

Eton makes several different radios, and the brand carries a number of labels including one from the American Red Cross.

The FRX3 costs about $10 more than the original Ambient Weather, and has most of the very same features.

The one we’re recommending today, though, is the Model FRX5.  It costs nearly twice as much, but for that you get double the power, more lighting options, the ability to charge a smart phone, capture localized emergency alerts, etc.

Here’s a link to the radio: Eton FRX5 Hand Crank Emergency Weather Radio with SAME Alerts

And here’s what it looks like:

This is a very compact radio, just over 7 inches tall and a couple of inches wide. It operates on battery, AC, solar and crank. In fact, this radio earned the best score in a recent test measuring how much listen time was created by 2 minutes of cranking. (In this case, something like 10-12 minutes.)

What I like is the SAME Alert feature — stands for Specific Area Message Encoding. You enter in your county and the radio will automatically send alerts for that area.  (Seems to me this would be essential in Tornado Alley of the U.S.!)

When you click the link above, you’ll go directly to Amazon. Scroll down to the bottom of the Amazon page for a full description of this radio, with several more photos.

First time radio purchaser? Get answers to 7 important questions.

If you haven’t yet added a radio to your survival supplies, check out the Eton model above. Just click on the blue link to get started.

If you have NEVER shopped for an emergency radio before, go first to our Best Emergency Radio Reviews page because you’ll find there the 7 questions you need to consider before adding a radio to your pack, or to the survival kit of any of your family members. And you’ll see a number of other radios that we have reviewed and recommend.

The radio we would upgrade to if we were flush

I’ve mentioned before that we have an old Panasonic shortwave radio. (Joe’s had it ever since we’ve been together, and that’s over 33 years now, so its age is something older than that!) That’s the radio in the picture at the top of this page. Joe was changing the batteries, which explains the red ribbons at the bottom.

We have hauled this radio from coast to coast and back again, and Joe loves it.

Yesterday Joe handed me a spec sheet for the radio he would LIKE to have. It’s also available at Amazon, and also made by Eton. As far as I am concerned, it certainly looks a lot like the old Panasonic (!), but . . .Joe assures me that it’s “the ultimate” in radio receivers. It gets AM, FM, Aircraft, Longwave and Shortwave bands, has a rotating antenna plus you can tune-in stations by keying them in or searching for them. You can actually store 1000 stations!

If you’re really serious about emergency radios, check this one out.

Alert – Prices for the SAME RADIO vary considerably. Shop carefully to get the best deal!

Eton Grundig Satellit 750 Ultimate AM/FM Stereo also Receives Shortwave, Longwave and Aircraft Bands – Black (NGSAT750B)

And doesn’t it look a LOT like the Panasonic collector item above?

You need at least one emergency radio, and probably several. The good thing about radios is you can select the features you need (for each use or each person) and not have to buy features you don’t want, and you’ll save by choosing carefully.

Do you already have an emergency radio? Would you recommend it?  Let us know in the comments!

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

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Here’s a Gift for You or a Friend


On a daily basis we’re caught up in the excitement of whatever storm or heat wave is going on, or in the latest political maneuverings. Or maybe news from the sports world.

Here in California, though, there’s a background noise like the far-off rumble of a train. It is  . . .

The steady threat of an earthquake.

It’s tough to get people to think about and prepare for something they may never have experienced, no matter how dramatic you try to make it. Our neighborhood emergency planning group comes back to the subject of “the big one,” and earthquakes in general, again and again!

Here’s one of our best neighborhood emergency response group flyers.

How to protect yourself during an earthquake and afterwards

Share this flyer!

How to use the flyer.

  • Make copies and go over it at a neighborhood meeting. You will be surprised at the number of questions that will come up and the number of comments people will make about the supplies they have stored. Discuss the status of gas lines in your neighborhood and how to tell if there is a leak. Take a look around the room you are in and ask people what furniture they would get under if the earthquake happened right this minute! If your meeting takes place at night, find out how many people in the audience even have a flashlight with them! (Action item: Come prepared with a flashlight to give away as a door prize.)
  • Make a few changes to the text and and use the flyer at work.
  • Send to family members and out-of-town friends, too.

Emphasize the warning about NOT STARTING YOUR CAR if you suspect a gas leak. Cars backed up in traffic jams have started devastating fires in earlier quakes.

So you can make any changes, and fill in the box at the bottom of the flyer,

Click here to download the Microsoft Word document.

Let us know how your meeting goes. What questions came up that you weren’t expecting?

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team


If you need more background for likely questions, here are some earlier Advisories that may be useful:

Questions to Ask About Gas Line Safety


An Ongoing Threat

Gas main shut-off

Where and how?

The March 26, 2015 massive explosion and fire in  New York’s  East Village caused the collapse of three buildings and fire damage to a fourth — a reminder that natural gas continues to be a threat, particularly where the gas lines are aging – as they all are!

At one of your Emergency Response Team meetings, I’m sure you’ve discussed the threat posed by natural gas. If you haven’t, or if it’s time for a review, here are some questions to start the conversation.

1. Where are gas lines located in our neighborhood and building?

Large-diameter transmission lines may run near or even through your neighborhood, with smaller-diameter distribution lines connecting to individual residences or buildings. You should be able to get from your gas company a map showing the transmission lines. Getting maps showing smaller distribution lines may be more difficult. (In our case, we were able to get original construction drawings from the city. They show the exact location and size of our gas distribution lines.)

2. Where are shut-off valves located?

The gas utility, gas system operator and/or property owner may not want to reveal exactly where shut-off valves are located, mostly because they don’t want to invite mischief or sabotage.

However, from a SAFETY standpoint it is imperative for First Responders to know how to shut the system down in an emergency. A strong neighborhood CERT group can get this information.

Shut-off valves may be located at the individual home, at the building, at the street, and in other places along the system.

We recently had a visit from the crew of our nearest fire station. It was a shock for us to learn that they did NOT know exactly where our gas main shut-offs are located!

3. How do our shut-off valves work?

As a neighborhood group, you may be limited to what you can really do in your community. However, to the extent that you do know where lines and valves are located, you should find out what it takes to shut the gas off.

Review the different types of shut-off valves in your vicinity.

  • Automatic? Some valves, like seismic gas shut-off valves, operate automatically. However, such valves are not required and you probably don’t have any on your system.
  • Appliance? Within the home, individual appliances may have their own shut-off valves.
  • Entire home? In an emergency, shutting off the gas to the home likely means shutting it off at the meter. To do this, you’ll need a wrench and an understanding of the ON vs. the OFF position of the valve. (See earlier post.) Your turn-off may look like the one in the picture, or it may resemble a regular garden hose faucet handle.
  • Gas main? When it comes to shutting off gas at a larger line, the shut-off may be a larger version of the wrench turn off, or it may operate with a large wheel and gear.

Are any of the valves locked?

Naturally, if a gas valve is locked, no one except the operator may be able to access it. In a widespread emergency (earthquake) this could be an added problem.

In the Northridge Quake of 1994, managers of an affected mobile home park saw that gas escaping through the streets was being ignited by cars of residents evacuating the park. Unfortunately, management was unable to break the lock to turn off the gas at the main so it continued to fuel these fires.

4. What procedures are in place for shutting off the gas?

In an emergency,

  • Who is authorized to shut off the gas?
  • Which valves are they authorized to shut off? Remember, the gas utility probably “owns” the system up to the meter; you, as property owner, own everything on the house side of the meter.
  • What training do these authorized people receive?
  • How likely is it that authorized and trained people will be on hand in an emergency, when immediate action may be required? In a widespread disaster, Fire fighters may not reach you immediately; representatives of the gas company may also be delayed, perhaps indefinitely.

In the deadly 2010 explosion and fire in San Bruno, California, it took the gas company over 60 minutes to get the gas shut off!

5. What exactly are the dangers associated with natural gas?

The gas distribution system has thousands of miles of pipeline that operate safely nearly all the time. However, when there is a failure, it can result in a dramatic explosion and fire. Failures result from the following:

  • Pressure. The first concern of the system operator is to maintain the appropriate pressure in the system based on the size of the pipes and the number of connections to it. (The more connections, the more pressure needed to deliver the gas.) As communities grow, and more connections are added to the system, the Maximum Allowable Operating Pressure (MAOP) may need to be adjusted.
  • Pipeline failure Leaks and breaks occur when old pipes fail due to corrosion, improper welds or joins, improperly installed equipment, too much pressure – or as the result of natural events such as an earthquake.
  • Leaks Just because your system is old doesn’t necessarily mean it is in danger of failing. And just because a gas leak is detected doesn’t mean you are in imminent danger. However, when a leak is identified, you need to act quickly and decisively. What you need to be concerned about is a build-up of gas around a leak or as the result of gas “migrating” to an area where it gets trapped, such as in a basement, under a house, etc.

CERT Action item #1: Learn the signs of a gas leak and know how to respond. Start by reviewing this Emergency Plan Guide Advisory, and then research and distribute gas line safety bulletins that you can get from your own local gas utility.

CERT Action item #2: Find out how often and what kind of system testing (pressure, cracks, etc.) takes place in your area.

One of our most effective guest speakers was a representative from the Fire Department who talked about the various gas lines in our neighborhood. (We have the usual mains and feeder lines PLUS a high-octane aviation fuel line running beside our community.) See if you can set up a speaker from your own fire department or local utility.

Your invitation will cause that Fire Official to update his or her knowledge about your neighborhood, as well as remind your neighbors to be more alert. Every bit of knowledge helps!

Virginia Nicols
Your Emergency Plan Guide team

Looking for more information on gas lines? Check out these Emergency Plan Guide Advisories:

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