Many people know that a monster earthquake could devastate the Pacific Northwest with its shake-and-rattle damage and a massive tsunami along the coast.
It could happen today. Or in 400 years. That’s a problem, because while it makes sense to have an emergency kit at home, how do you motivate people when the disaster might not strike while they’re alive?
“It’s hard to tell people to prepare for something that they might not experience in their lifetime,” said Lacey Shoemaker, disaster program manager for the Northwest Washington Chapter of the American Red Cross, which covers Whatcom, Skagit, Island and San Juan counties.
So Shoemaker offers a softer-sell approach.
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We don’t want to scare people into being prepared.
Shoemaker, Northwest Washington Chapter, American Red Cross
If people need time to stock their kit item by item, fine. And because water and food put aside for an emergency shouldn’t sit forever, go ahead and consume it later — maybe while on a camping trip. Just be sure to restock what you take.
“I’ll go in and get my peanut butter out, and go to the store and get more,” Shoemaker said.
Some people say a kit should last for seven days or for several weeks. Shoemaker says three days is a good starting point, because once people put their kit together, it’s easy to make it larger to last longer.
“We’re not expecting people to go out there and have their list and get all their supplies they need at one go,” Shoemaker said. “We don’t want to scare people into being prepared.”
Here’s the clincher. Even if you don’t live long enough to experience a magnitude 9.0 earthquake, your kit will come in mighty handy after, say, a house fire, a major flood or a paralyzing bizzard.
Kits don’t have to be fancy or expensive, but they are important. Here’s what to include, and why:
A plastic tub with a tight lid, or some other easy-to-carry container: Your kit can serve your needs at home, but an earthquake or other disaster could leave your residence unusable, so make your kit ready for “grab-and-go.” Keep it near the main exit at your house, in case you have to leave in a hurry or in the dark. Some people keep a mini-kit in their car, too.
Personal documents: Have copies of important papers — passport, driver’s license, birth certificate, insurance policies, bank account numbers. That can make it easier to replace the paperwork later, and emergency-help groups might want proof of, say, home ownership or residency.
Water: Set aside at least one gallon per person per day, for drinking, washing and possible cooking. A recent study estimated that nearly 90 percent of potable water facilities in Washington and Oregon could suffer medium to high damage in a 9.0 earthquake, so having your own water supply is crucial.
Shoemaker said bottled water is OK, but she replaces her water every six months. Water can be purified with chemicals or distillation, but know ahead how to do it. Boiling water is a safe way to purify it, if you have a heat source.
Food: Store nonperishable, nutritious food that requires little or no water or cooking to prepare. Examples include canned meats, fruits and vegetables; canned soups and juices; and peanut butter, granola bars, trail mix, and jerky. Include eating utensils and a manual can opener.
Adequate food is important because, while most quake deaths and injuries in the Northwest likely will be caused by the coastal tsunami, damage to roads and bridges will slow the delivery of supplies, including food, to areas like Whatcom County.
Clothing: Set aside at least one set of warm clothing, plus sturdy shoes, rain gear and spare blankets. Some people suggest having a tent and sleeping bags.
Shoemaker said if an earthquake strands people during cold weather, emergency shelters will be opened to provide a warm place to stay, with meals and health services.
“We can house people if it comes to that,” she said.
Health and personal items: If needed, pack an extra pair of prescription glasses or contact lenses, a cane, and hearing aid batteries, because pharmacies might be closed for several days.
If you take prescriptions, talk to your doctor about having enough on hand to cover an emergency. Also, keep a list of your medications and dosages, your allergies, and contact information for doctors and hospitals.
Don’t forget a first aid kit, plus toilet paper, feminine supplies and other personal hygiene items. If you have pets, have extra food, leashes and medicine for them.
Radio, phone contacts: Phone and computer service can be spotty after a quake, so have a hand-crank or battery-powered radio, with spare batteries, of course.
Flashlights and batteries are vital, too, as is a whistle in case you need to alert others of your whereabouts.
Ahead of time, pick a friend or relative outside of Western Washington to take phone or text messages from your family members. Shoemaker’s out-of-area contact is her parents in Eastern Washington.
“Usually, long distance is still working,” she said.
Also, have a road map, because your usual routes might be impassable, and have a family plan that includes where to meet once it’s safe to travel.
Money: Banks and ATMs may be closed, so have small bills and change on hand to buy water or other necessities to get you through the tough, initial days of the disaster.
Shoemaker said an emergency kit helps your own family and also frees up emergency crews so they can focus attention on the coast and other areas damaged the most by a quake and tsunami.
“If the ‘big one’ hits, there’s going to be other places hit way harder than us,” she said.
Dean Kahn: 360-715-2291
More on preparedness
Whatcom Unified Emergency Management, at whatcomready.org, has details about emergency preparedness, including kits and family plans.
For people who don’t want to build their own, emergency and first aid kits can be purchased from the American Red Cross and many local retailers.
For details about emergency preparedness in Whatcom County, see whatcomvolunteer.org or call 360-734-3055.
Spring ahead for disasters
Lacey Shoemaker, disaster program manager for the Northwest Washington Chapter of the American Red Cross, checks and replaces items in her emergency kit twice a year, when daylight saving time comes and goes, the same time she resets her clocks and changes her household alarm batteries.
This year, daylight saving time begins Sunday, March 13. If you don’t have a kit at home, March 13 is a good target date to get started.