November 1998

General Emergency Preparedness

Once again, let me make one thing clear.  I am preparing to supply up to ten people for two to four weeks.  I expect to have difficulty getting either food, or water, or heat, but not all three.  I do not expect to have to leave our base, which is a small house in the suburbs east of Los Angeles.  I do not expect to have to defend our base or our supplies.  I expect that all services will be fully functional before one month has passed. 

If you think that things are serious enough that you need to make plans for a longer-term survival, I refer to you Captain Dave's Survival Center.


During the month of November, we are going to finalize some of our basic supplies.   These are things which almost everyone should have on hand for whatever sort of disasters you have locally.  Flood, tornado, hurricane, earthquake, blizzard, volcanic eruption, tidal wave, blackout; everyone lives under the threat of at least one of these.  There are basic supplies which you should have on hand at all times.  

November 6

I was over at Ikea the other day and bought another package of candles.  (Ikea is a Swedish furnishing store.)  I like the boxes of fifty white candles for $5.95.   I took them home and added them to my earthquake kit.

My earthquake kit was a plastic basket sort of like the kind you pick up in supermarkets when you only have a few things to get.  In the five or so years since I put it together, the basket has cracked.  Last week I bought a new plastic box at HomeBase to hold all of our equipment.

Everything in my earthquake kit is sealed in zip-close plastic bags.  This is to ensure that if the kit got wet, the stuff inside would not get wet.  If you start to prepare for earthquake, you have to consider the possibility that it might be raining when you would have to evacuate, or that a pipe might leak.  Better safe than trying to light a candle with a soaked pack of matches.

My kit contains the following:

  • 100 candles
  • 4 emergency (solid fuel) candles
  • 10 packs of regular matches
  • 2 packs of fireplace matches
  • 2 packs of strike-anywhere matches in a metal box
  • 2 dozen glow sticks
  • 4 pairs of rubber gloves
  • 2 pairs of heavy work gloves
  • 4 pairs of heavy socks
  • my last pair of sneakers
  • my last pair of glasses (in with the socks for padding)
  • 1 package of 100 paper napkins
  • 1 package of 100 paper plates
  • 1 package each of plastic forks, knives, and spoons
  • 1 bottle of dishwashing detergent
  • 2 boxes facial tissue
  • 8 rolls toilet paper
  • 1 package of 25 lawn and garden trashbags
  • first aid kit containing:
    antiseptic ointment
    bandages
    scissors
    tweezers
  • Ace bandages
  • 1 bottle of antiseptic hand lotion
  • 1 box of individually packaged moist towelletes
  • aspirin
  • sleeping pills
  • caffeine tablets
  • sanitary napkins
  • utility knife
  • string
  • duct tape
  • 10 cans tuna
  • 10 cans soup
  • 10 cans beans (garbanzos, kidneys)
  • 5 cans corn
  • 15 cans fruit in heavy syrup
  • a can opener
  • 4 packs shelf-stable pudding
  • 2 pounds granola
  • 3 pounds dried fruit
  • 2 boxes crackers
  • 25 gallons of water (1 gallon per person per day for one week)
  • notebook and pens
    the notebook contains the following information:
    • location of the three nearest emergency rooms
    • location of the two nearest police departments
    • location of the three nearest doctor's offices
    • location of the two nearest fire stations

    In short, every place I could reasonably find safety and/or medical supplies in case of emergency.

Here are some of the reasons behind my choices.

I chose sanitary napkins over tampons because if it is difficult to wash your hands, it is not advisable to insert a tampon.  Tampon use carries some risk of toxic shock.   In addition, sanitary napkins are great as a pressure bandage for large wounds.  

I though a lot about Robert Heinlein's Have Space Suit—Will Travel in preparation for this.  Heinlein had his character Kip repair and wear a spacesuit.   This suit is somewhat different from the ones that astronauts really use.  At this time in the indefinite future, people work on the Moon, doing construction and mining.  They are not always inside the bay of a Space Shuttle, connected with a tether to a source of power, air, and food.  The interior of the space suit contains a miniature pharmacy, with pain killers, uppers, protein pills, etc. 

I chose to include sleeping pills and caffeine tablets because they are the closest thing I could get to "uppers" and "downers" legally.   (Kip worked in a pharmacy and had help getting prescription drugs.)  I figured that immediately following a severe earthquake, there might be a need for sustained work, such as digging people out of rubble.  Caffeine tablets would help keep rescuers working as long as possible.  On the other hand, once we had recovered who we could, and were somewhere out of immediate danger, we would need to sleep again, despite continuing aftershocks.  (The aftershocks of a 6-8 pt earthquake can be in the 5-7 range, and would qualify as serious quakes themselves if they were not "followups.")  

I make sure that the canned fruit we have is packed in heavy syrup.  "Heavy syrup" is sugar water.  Stress and hard work are a big consumer of calories.   In an emergency, a person who is catatonic or otherwise unable to be fed, can be made to swallow this syrup.  And, it can be fed to nursing infants if absolutely no source of milk or infant formula can be found.

I used to keep a package of baby wipes in my kit.  This is a partially separated roll of soft paper towels in a plastic tub filled with fluid.  The first time I needed them, I discovered that they had all dried out.  Although they are more expensive and the packaging cannot be recycled, I switched to individually foil-wrapped towelettes.  I also like that new antiseptic handwash, but nothing takes off dirt like liquid.

Although we have a shovel for gardening work, and I could technically dig a toilet hole if I needed to, for short term problems, I prefer the trash bag method.   Line the dry bowl of a toilet with a heavy duty trash bag (lawn and garden are good).  Use the toilet.  Use a single bag repeatedly for liquid waste, but remove and tie off the bag immediately for solid waste.  Keep a separate bag in the bathroom in which to deposit the tied-up bags. 

I pay a lot of attention to lights and candles.  This is in addition to the regular candles and flashlights we have around the house and the (wood burning) fireplace and (charcoal) grill.  In romantic histories, they say that "man tamed fire."  In truth, we have come to rely on fire so much that we are significantly shaken without it.  People who have experienced some trauma and especially children will be much more relaxed and confident with a single candle lit in a darkened room than without it.  In addition, most of us are not prepared for the deep darkness that would follow a blackout.  We are used to streetlights and even the glow of city lights reflected off of the humidity in the atmosphere.  The light from a VCR faceplate can light a room sufficiently to allow you to orient yourself and prevent you from running into the wall on your way to the bathroom.  If the power goes out, you will appreciate having a sure source of light.

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November 20

I went to see a man at the Naturestill Pure Water store (9545 Central Avenue., Montclair, California).  This is a facility where water is distilled in hug machines.  It is boiled to produce water vapor, and the vapor is cooled to produce pure water.  It is 50 a gallon, as compared to about 25 a gallon from a water machine, but a recent story in the news about contaminated water machines makes me leery of them.

I once attended a presentation on earthquake preparedness by a group called Quakesafe.  The presenter told us that water should only be kept for six to twelve months.  The plastic containers that hold the water decay in light.  Her family drinks bottled water, and twice a year they rotate fresh water into the earthquake kit and drink the old stuff.

The Naturestill man said that was true of the water you usually buy in stores.  This is made from #2 plastic.  It is sensitive to light and air and breaks down over time.  On the other hand, when you buy water from delivery services, it is stored in #1 (PETE) plastic.  This stiffer plastic will last for much longer.  

I was concerned about storing water now and having to re-purchase next summer.  Instead, I bought twenty gallons of water in PETE bottles.

Lauren Eve Pomerantz
November 1998
last updated 15 August 2007