Why Everyone Should Have an Earthquake Kit

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KCET is collaborating with the California Earthquake Authority to raise awareness and provide resources to help you prepare for an earthquake. California Earthquake Authority is a publicly managed, not-for-profit, privately funded organization that provides residential earthquake insurance and encourages Californians to reduce their risk of earthquake damage and loss.


An earthquake may last only seconds, but its destruction is often swift and long lasting.

The 1994 Northridge earthquake was a mere 10-20 seconds long, but caused unprecedented damage to Southern California. The magnitude 6.7 quake claimed 57 lives, injured 8,700 and caused as much as $40 billion in property damage.

Experts say that if a magnitude 7.8 struck Southern California today, it would bring even more devastation. Earthquake models suggest that 1,600 people would die and 53,000 would be injured, overwhelming our hospitals. Property damages would reach $212 billion and full recovery would take months, if not years.

There are, however, many steps people can take to reduce their risks and facilitate recovery. An earthquake kit is essential, but there are also a few important things residents should do even before shopping for emergency supplies:

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Reduce existing hazards. Position tall or heavy furniture, like bookcases, away from beds and sofas where people sleep, sit or spend a lot of time. Move heavy objects down to lower the center of gravity of furniture. Ensure heavy items do not block doors, hallways or escape paths. Secure tall or top-heavy furniture, like dressers, to wall studs with nylon straps. Secure any water heaters and use flexible connections where gas lines meet appliances. Finally, consider latching cabinet doors and using museum putty or wax to secure small decorative items like vases.

The earthquake kit. A major earthquake may disrupt your supply of water, electricity, and gas. Roadways and transportation may also be obstructed for days following a quake, making it difficult for you to venture out or be reached by emergency crews. So it’s imperative to have a disaster supplies kit with basic provisions for 72 hours. But you may not be at home when it strikes. ShakeOut.org, a website for earthquake preparedness, recommends you keep the following items at home, your car, and at work in a small bag or backpack that’s easy to carry:

  • Medications, prescription list, copies of medical cards, doctor's name and contact information
  • Medical consent forms for dependents
  • First aid kit and handbook
  • Examination gloves (non-latex)
  • Dust mask
  • Spare eyeglasses or contact lenses and cleaning solution
  • Bottled water
  • Whistle (to alert rescuers to your location)
  • Sturdy shoes
  • Emergency cash 
  • Road maps
  • List of emergency out-of-area contact phone numbers
  • Snack foods, high in water and calories
  • Working flashlight with extra batteries and light bulbs, or light sticks
  • Personal hygiene supplies
  • Comfort items such as games, crayons, writing materials, teddy bears
  • Toiletries and special provisions
  • Copies of personal identification (drivers license, work ID card, etc.)

Experts recommend a more extensive list for your home. Be prepared to survive for a minimum of three days or up to two weeks:

  • Water (minimum one gallon a day for each person)
  • Wrenches to turn off gas and water supplies
  • Work gloves and protective goggles
  • Heavy duty plastic bags for waste, and to serve as tarps, rain ponchos, and other uses
  • Portable radio with extra batteries (or hand crank for charging)
  • Additional flashlights or light sticks
  • Canned and packaged foods
  • Charcoal or gas grill for outdoor cooking and matches if needed
  • Cooking utensils, including a manual can opener
  • Pet food and pet restraints
  • Comfortable, warm clothing including extra socks
  • Blankets or sleeping bags, and perhaps even a tent
  • Copies of vital documents such as insurance policies
  • Duct tape
  • Signs that say “Help” and “O.K.” Hang a sign to indicate your status to emergency responders and neighbors
  • Portable USB battery for charging cell phones 

Put all your supplies in a watertight container that’s easy to move.  Keep it in an easily accessible place so you can reach it even if your home is damaged. Take stock and update your supplies each year. Replace perishable items like water, food, medication and batteries. Remember, these disaster kits can be used for other types of emergencies as well.

Being prepared reduces your exposure to risks. It can save lives and ease recovery. Having basic food and water needs met means you can focus on injuries, helping community members or tending to a child’s emotional needs.

Other Considerations

Post-earthquake fires are a significant risk. Fire fighters may be busy putting out other fires or unable to reach you.

The 1994 Northridge earthquake sparked 110 simultaneous fires. More than 70 percent of them occurred in homes and apartment buildings. They were caused primarily by an electrical short igniting escaping natural gas. This risk can be minimized by two prevention measures:

  • Make sure your home is bolted to its foundation (a building shifting off its foundation can sever gas lines)
  • Keep a fire extinguisher handy

Top Image: Northridge Earthquake, CA, January 17, 1994 | Public Domain

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