Not the first time you've been asked -- are you ready for The Big One?

We all know we're supposed to be prepared for a big earthquake, but are we? Do you know what you're supposed to have socked away in case a massive quake hits?

July 8, 2019
Seismograph measuring earthquake activity

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In the wake of those two earthquakes that just happened in Southern California -- a 6.4 followed the next day by a 7.1, and around 3,000 aftershocks -- and the smaller ones we just had east of Everett, we once again get scolded by the media for not being prepared for The Big One here in the Pacific Northwest. We all know it's coming one of these days, but most of us carry on willfully ignoring that information.

Scientists tell us that we can expect a huge coastal seismic event -- like a magnitude of 8 or 9 -- every 250 years on average, and guess what? We haven't had one that big for 319 years. Again, these are historical averages, and these things don't happen on any kind of actual schedule, but if you really noodle this around, you'll realize there's a good chance we're on borrowed time, we're overdue, and we should just go right ahead and freak out. (Okay, maybe that's just me.) And if you're not at least a little concerned about what a major quake will do to our region, maybe you should reread this New Yorker article from 2015: The Really Big One. It's a reality check.

So at the risk of sounding like all the other media outlets who instill panic and fear in us after there's a big quake somewhere else, let's be real here -- there are at least a few things we can all do to improve our chances of surviving when The Big One hits. 

The website is on top of things with checklists for pretty much any kind of disaster you can imagine, from an active shooter to bioterrorism to a nuclear explosion. (Yeah, that site's a real ray of sunshine.) So here are a few of the basics they suggest we take care of right now:

  • Secure items, such as televisions, and objects that hang on walls. Store heavy and breakable objects on low shelves.
  • Create a family emergency communications plan that has an out-of-state contact. Plan where to meet if you get separated.
  • Make a supply kit that includes enough food and water for at least three days, a flashlight, a fire extinguisher, and a whistle. Consider each person’s specific needs, including medication. Do not forget the needs of pets. Have extra batteries and charging devices for phones and other critical equipment. (And, I might add, I have some avid paranoid survivalist friends who swear the most important thing you can stockpile in advance of any major destructive event is . . . toilet paper. They swear TP will be like freshly minted cash when the apocalypse arrives, so ignore that advice at your own risk.)

I've also heard tips about having some kind of earthquake kit not just at home, but at work and in your car in case you're on the road when it hits, which isn't that far fetched these days since we spend so much time in PNW freeway gridlock. And speaking of the car, they say it's a good idea to keep some sensible walking shoes in the trunk -- maybe just an old pair of Nikes that you just replaced with something newer. The idea is that with the chance of collapsed bridges and buckled roadways, you may need to hoof it to get back to your family. They say that women, especially, might not want to attempt that in the fragile and unsupportive shoes they wear to work.

There are lots of things to think about after the dust settles, like how to deal with the utilities connected to your house, what tools might come in handy, and in what order you should consume the food from your disabled refrigerator and your emergency stash. This Seattle Times article from a few years ago is a great, straightforward rundown of things you may not have thought of. It may scare the crap out of you, but it's genuinely helpful.

Personally, my biggest fear is that I'll be separated from my 7-year-old son with no way to let him know that I'm okay and I'm coming to him as soon as possible. And since he might well be in school in West Seattle, which is separated from me here in downtown Seattle by a bridge which may or may not survive a massive quake, I tend to take this stuff more seriously than I might have in my pre-parenthood phase. 

So if you can spend a few bucks to buy a little peace of mind, why not use last week's California quakes as a reminder to take care of business. You'll sleep better at night. 

And think about what you'd be willing to trade me for a couple of precious rolls of Quilted Northen Ultra-Soft.