Earthquake Preparedness: It's More than Just Not Sleeping Naked!

It's not if the "Big One" hits San Francisco. It's when. Are you ready?

Mar 8, 2012 at 2:48pm | Leave a comment

Early Monday morning, I was awakened suddenly by a loud cracking noise and a series of violent jolts. I sat up quickly, my heart at a complete stop. Those first few seconds of an earthquake are always the most terrifying.

Do I need to take cover in the doorframe? Is my entire building going to collapse? Is some hot fireman going to find my dead naked body in a pile of rubble and also wonder why I thought it was OK to gain 10 pounds just because I was in a relationship?

I grew up in San Francisco, but as many earthquakes as I’ve experienced, I never get used to them. It’s impossible to do so. Each one could be a minor tremor or it could be “the big one.” (Yes, earthquakes are basically just one big excuse to say, "That's what s/he said" all day long.) There’s no way of knowing if you're going to fall into a ginrmous sinkhole until it’s over. (Go ahead, say it; I'll wait.) And even then, there’s always the chance the earthquake was foreshock and that the one that’s going to knock your entire building over is only minutes away. And unlike many other natural disasters, there is zero warning. Scary!

I was six years old the first time I woke up to my bed shaking. I yelled at my brother to stop it and when he didn’t, I leaned over and lifted up the bed skirt, prepared to scream at him for being in my room. Except there was no one under my bed.

There were others after that, sure, but the next one that really sticks out in my memory happened on October 17, 1989.

I am sitting in front of the piano on the second floor of our Pacific Heights house in San Francsico. Next to me is my piano teacher, Jeremy Zimmerman, a neurotic, but passionate pianist who comes to my house every Tuesday in order to lecture me about the length of my fingernails and the importance of doing 20 minutes of daily exercises from “Hanon: The Virtuoso Pianist.”

Today, I am also getting a small talk on time management, mostly in that I refuse to find time to practice Mozart, and instead insist on concentrating solely on mastering all of my favorites from Les Misérables. 


It’s been almost a year since I played Mr. Wizard with Sun-In and hydrogen peroxide, an amazing duo that, when combined properly, produce a shade of orange never before seen on a human head. This particular hue also has the added effect of evoking unparalleled rage within my mother every time I accidentally stumble into her line of sight.

The anger reached a boiling point several months before when she held me down and cut all of the orange out of my bangs, leaving me with a crooked one-inch fringe, a look that Amelie had not yet made chic.

image
 
Luckily, one hardly notices that my bangs look like Pugsley’s due to the distraction of my round tortoise shell glasses and shining silver braces. Add my school uniform, a navy pleated skirt and sailor top (“middy”) to that and, well, let’s just say no one’s surprised I'm spending my Tuesday afternoon listing all of the reasons why "On My Own" should be my recital piece. (Spoiler alert: I won the argument.)
  
Jeremy is squished next to me on the piano bench, despite the fact that I always pull a chair up for him before each lesson. He uses his pudgy fingers to lift my wrists so they are “one with my hand and forearm.” I do not like being touched, so I make a mental note not to ever let my wrists fall again. He tells me to go easy on the pedals and I can smell tuna fish on his breath.
 
Suddenly: The room is moving. A lot. I look at Jeremy, eyes wide. “I think we’re supposed to get under the doorway.” The shaking has me stunned and scared, but also eerily composed.
 
We quickly move to the doorway and stand there, swaying back and forth with the house. A loud noise unlike anything I’ve ever heard before -- Rumbling? Grinding? Crunching? -- fills the air. It comes from everywhere and nowhere. I’m convinced the house is seconds away from completely collapsing.
 
“Oh God,” Jeremy says. “This is it. This is it. The world is ending. This is it.” He pulls me into a hug. But I refuse to die in the arms of my piano teacher, so I pull away from his arms and move quickly across the hall to another doorway. Mid-earthquake. 
 
Finally, the shaking stops. I’ve just survived a 7.0 earthquake, the longest 15 seconds of my entire life, and the moment that will forever define me as an infamous and unapologetic hater of hugs.
 
The next few days are difficult. That night, we gather at a family friend’s house and watch the Marina District burn. I question my mother over and over again about why we lived in San Francisco, but she has no answer for me. (I suspect it was because she was too embarrassed to move anywhere else with me until my hideous bangs grew out, but that's just a guess.) School is canceled for the week, but there is also no electricity, no telephone.

But then, as with most traumatic events, eventually, the fear subsides. Turns into a story. Something to talk about with friends. In hindsight, I suspect some small part of me even wanted another one. Just for the excitement.

 
image
 
But now I’m an adult and my idea of excitement is alone wine and watching four back-to-back episodes of "Downton Abbey" in a row, so when I was jolted out of bed Monday morning, the fear of death shooting through my veins, I realized I need a better plan for surviving “The Big One” than just “Don't sleep naked.”
 
You guys are smart, so clearly you can Google “earthquake safety preparation,” but just in case you’re also lazy, here are a few things you can do today to help you sleep safely (in your adorable pajamas). xoJane: not just about sex, drugs, and cake!
 
Five Things Even the Laziest Amongst Us Can Do to Prepare for an Earthquake
 
1. Keep a sturdy pair of shoes under your bed and a flashlight in your bedside table. If it’s a big earthquake, you’re going to lose electricity and one of the most common earthquake injuries is cuts from debris/broken glass. Personally, I don't even own a "sturdy" pair of shoes, so I'd say a pair of Converse or something similiar will suffice.
 
2. Stash some cash (at least $500) somewhere safe (but presumably close to your shoes/flashlight). When the electricity goes out, so do the ATMs and credit card machines. Trust me: You're going to be really bummed if you can't buy wine and cookies. 
 
3. Establish an out-of-state contact for you and family members to call. This person can serve as a liason for family members you can't get in touch with and can also let other people know you're okay. (You know, like your Grandmother who's not on Twitter.)
 
4. Plan an escape route and meeting place for your friends/family. Try not to have to cross any bridges/tunnels to get to this place as you can’t guarantee those will be accessible. You also might not want to count on having your car. It’s probably best to have a safe refuge first (out in the open and away from overhead hazards) by your home as well as a meeting place. It could take hours/days to get to the latter. Also, don't assume your mother will be OK with the initial plan.
 
5. In case of a big earthquake that’s not quite so devastating, you need a 72-hours supply of water, food, batteries, and all of that good stuff. I’ll let you google it. And, no, Emily, the extra batteries for your vibrator do not count. Unless your vibrator uses "D" batteries, in which case, let's never talk about this again.
 
And lastly: during the actual earthquake: "Drop, cover, and hold on." Get under a desk/table. Stay calm (right) and cover your neck and head. When it ends, unless the building you’re in seems to have suffered serious damage, it is almost always safer to stay inside in order to avoid downed powerlines, falling debris, etc. Aftershocks, yo.
 
Oh, and no matter what: Don’t switch doorways mid-earthquake. Even if you are being hugged by a scary piano teacher who thinks the world is coming to an end.
 
Do as I say, not as I do.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some sit-ups to do.