Earthquake Un-Preparedness

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Earthquake Un-Preparedness

Earthquake Un-Preparedness

My husband and I moved from Boston to California in August of 1989. I was returning to the place of my birth. He was dutifully following me, with one condition: no earthquakes.

“Don’t worry,” I said as I loaded our few belongings into the small hatchback which would carry us across the country and into our new lives. “I grew up there. You might get the occasional 4.0 rattler, but The Big One is a myth meant to keep people away. Sort of like rain in Seattle.” Uh huh.

Two months later, Loma Prieta cracked open and shook us to the core. The destruction in and around our Oakland rental was devastating. That afternoon, I was home studying for graduate school mid-terms. As glass and furniture flew around, I cowered under my desk. Meanwhile my husband, who worked far south — just miles from the epicenter — stood watching the undulating street outside the wavering windows while the ceiling fell in pieces around him. He didn’t know about duck and cover. Thank god, he was unharmed. But, because he relied on public transportation to get to his job, it took him well into the night to get back to me. When he did, we clung together, our innocence — and arrogance — lost. So much for earthquake preparedness.

We learned our lesson. Now, we do our best to be ready in the event of an emergency. Our garage is stocked with supplies to last a week, or longer. We have water, medicine, food, cooking equipment, flashlights, sun-powered radios, blankets, stuff for the pets, even a deck of cards. We’ve practiced with our children what to do, whom to call, where to meet, when The Big One hits. Perhaps it’s because the threat of earthquakes somehow feels more real these days than it did back then, we don’t treat it as a joke any more.

In the past two years, we’ve seen earthquakes ravage Chile, New Zealand, and Japan. These countries make up three of the four quarters of the Pacific Plate. The San Andreas Fault makes up the fourth. If the geological theorists are correct, we’re next.

Simon Winchester, author of A Crack in the Edge of the World, about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, recently wrote that as a result of these “triggering” events, “a lot of thoughtful people in the American West..are very nervous indeed—wondering, as they often must do, whether the consent that permits them to inhabit so pleasant a place might be about to be withdrawn, sooner than they have supposed.”

He is right. This paradise has a slithering, writhing snake that threatens to strike at any moment. Take last Thursday for example. Just as my children were practicing their duck and cover routines for The Great California Shake Out the earth, in all her irony, decided to throw in a little jolt to test their fortitude. Not once, but twice.

My children were rattled. So was I. The news reports detailed the mass of people who ran out of their buildings when the earthquake hit, exactly the opposite of what we are all taught to do. Worried they wouldn’t do the right thing in an earthquake, my children wanted me to assure them, everything would be fine. But will it?

I think of my dear friend, M. Recently a childhood friend, the maid-of honor at her wedding, was getting her hair done in Seal Beach. A disgruntled ex-husband walked into the hair salon and gunned her, and everyone else, down. As I tried to console M., I pondered the lesson for us all: try as we might, there is so much for which we can’t ever prepare.

And yet, while I know The Big One is inevitable and I know that all the preparation in the world may not prepare us for the likely devastation, that doesn’t stop me from trying. At the very least, it gives me solace to know I have done what I can. That is what I told my children as we practiced drop and cover, yet again.


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