Saturday, March 12, 2011

Earthquake Preparedness & Your Camping Gear

*Update: 14 March 2011*
Just found the best wake-up call article (from 2005) explaining exactly what will happen to Vancouver and Victoria when our odds are up (1 in 10 to 1 in 7 chance The Big One will happen within 50 years). And he's talking a 7.0 or an 8.0 on the Richter scale, not even the 9.0+ we'd be expecting. Thank you Ken MacQueen of Maclean's magazine.

A more recent read on what could happen here is in the Metro here (thank you, Paul Sullivan)

I wish there was a happier reason for posting this, but as you will undoubtedly be aware, our friends in Japan have just witnessed the 5th largest earthquake in recent world history (1900 and after).

Extra blankets, camping mats available at Atmosphere (near 1st and Burrard)

Before that, there were larger ones. Guess where they occurred? In about 1700, we had an earthquake of larger than 9.0 which wiped out coastal villages and communities, something that is evidenced by salt-water rings in old-growth trees and layers of sedimentation far, far inland, and by native peoples verbal histories. Geologists and seismologists have speculated that every 300 years or so, the cycle repeats.

Don't buy spring water - it expires! Distilled or purified water is the best choice.

I don't think being scared is overly helpful, but yes, our big, locked fault is a subduction zone fault. If you want to scare yourself into action (optional!), here's the truth about the Cascadian subduction zone. We're overdue for a Mega-earthquake, even bigger than the one that happened yesterday in Japan. It's coming, but no one knows when it will occur. Maybe today, maybe 20 years from now, and maybe we'll outlast it and it will happen to the future generation.

I only use this backpack a few times of year to go hiking/camping. The rest of the time, it houses my earthquake kit!

I've actually been drafting a post on Earthquake Preparedness Kits for this blog in my mind for a little while - it's getting near income tax time, the time of year I update the kit and rotate out food that will expire before tax time next year. I recommend updating your earthquake kit the same time as you start gathering your T4's and charitable donation receipts. It's an easy way to remember.

All cans in my kit have pop-top lids (no opener required)

You can buy earthquake preparedness kits from The Canadian Red Cross and on online sites like (which are great, I'm sure), but the one I built myself didn't cost much at all and is tailored to suit my individual needs.

Checklist recommendations vary, so read a few to get a sense of what's truly essential and build around that. Here are some lists to scan through:
It is also recommended that you have a small kit for your vehicle as well (containing water, a blanket, and granola bars, etc.), which is a particularly good idea if you commute daily or often take long drives.

Here's what my home kit contains:
  1. WATER, WATER, WATER. Distilled or reverse-osmosis purified water in factory-sealed plastic containers. 24 litres minimum - that's enough for 2 people for 72 hours. (It's going to be much longer than 72 hours before someone comes to look after you, trust me on that). Don't buy Natural Spring Water - it expires, and you'll have to replenish it every year. Learned that one the hard way! Plastic containers, as much as it may make your skin crawl, is the best bet as they are lighter and more durable than glass! This is perhaps the only time you should ever buy bottled water. Bleach (small bottle) can also be very, very helpful - 4 drops of bleach per 4.5 Litres of clear water will make it safe to drink (let it sit and mix it well). For cloudy water, 10 drops per 4.5 Litres will render it potable. When the earthquake happens, fill your bathtub with water. If you are able to stay in your home, you will be able to use this water to bathe with, or to drink if you don't have separate water containers. Water mains will rupture, and dirty water will contaminate the system soon afterwards.
  2. Shelter (outdoors). In my case, a tarp (I don't own my own tent, but hoping that will change this year!), sleeping mats (inflatable camping mats), polar fleece blankets (flammable, but light-weight).
  3. Plastic Bags, lots of them. Any other day, I loathe them and wish they ceased to be. A bane to the oceans and landfills, plastic bags are evil in every respect apart from a few key situations in which they are indispensible - when vomitting somewhere without a toilet or garbage can, and in emergency and wet-weather stituations! Where will you, ahem, you know? If you're living in your car, where's the poop going to go? Sewers will be ruined, and if you're lucky enough to have a home that remains safe structurally, you won't be able to flush... Being able to dispose of human waste in a leak-proof, sealable, disposable container is something you certainly want to be prepared for. I stash all good heavy-duty plastic shopping bags into my earthquake kit and hope that I'll never have to use them for a toilet. Water-proofing your clothing and belongings is another very important use for plastic bags - my tarp tent is unlikely to keep the rain completely out.
  4. Toilet paper, toothbrush & toothpaste, soap and toiletries. Don't skimp here - stash a good week's supply of tampons, extra eyeglasses or contact lenses and solution, wet-wipes, hand-sanitizer, deodorant, etc. Hygiene is going to be a challenge - give yourself every fighting chance. Mini-bars of soap and hotel- or sample-sized shampoo and conditioner are going to be worth their weight in gold! Extra hair elastics, spare socks and underwear will also come in handy. You'll be thankful you packed the ugly old things you never thought you'd wear again! (Follow link above for free sample-size goodies - not at all green for all that packaging and waste, but useful for earthquake kits).
  5. Medications, enough for a week or more and a First Aid Kit. If you're dependent on insulin or thyroid pills, or anything you need to take daily (birth control, hypertension meds, etc.), put some aside for your own safety. I also put in quite a lot of painkillers as well - you'll probably have some pretty bad bruises to cope with, at the very least. First Aid instruction manuals and a kit with the basics is key.
  6. Canned PREPARED food (pop-tops!), jars of applesauce, dried mangoes or other fruit, Gatorade / energy drink powder, etc. First off, if you can't open the jar with your fingers, your kit is going to need a designated can-opener (you can get them cheap at Ikea). I've got Campbell's Chunky Soup, Stagg Chilli, Ocean's Tuna Snack things in cans - all of which have a pull-ring top. Note that all of these are pre-cooked, prepared food that simply require heating to enjoy. You probably won't be able to heat these - be prepared to eat them cold from the can, and don't buy anything that needs to be cooked before consumption (including, unfortunately, those plastic pouches of Indian food I love so much). Gatorade is yucky and full of crud, but it also has electrolytes and can be really helpful in preventing and treating dehydration. Make it half-strength or less - it's full of sugar and doesn't need to be as strong as the label suggests.
  7. Flashlight (crank-powered is great!), extra batteries, battery-operated (or crank) radio. The crank options are much better - you won't have to lug around extra batteries (and they're better for the environment, too!). Go to to have a look for these essentials. Here's a great option that has LED flashlight capability as well.
  8. Shoes (with good soles) and warm-clothing. Broken glass is a natural by-product of earthquakes, and since the hospitals and paramedics will be overwhelmed, you don't want to risk lacerations to your feet! They don't have to be pretty, but make sure they have good thick soles. Extra hoodies and sweatpants might just make your day one day. Waterproof jackets and pants are great if you have them.
  9. Containers. Yet another scenario when plastic is a good option (only in emergencies, it seems!). Empty yogurt containers or transparent plastic sandwich containers are great for holding toiletries and first aid supplies. Once you start breaking into those jugs of water, you'll want a cup to drink out of. You might also want a clean place to keep your toothbrush and wet soap. Nest a few useful, empty containers together for your kit, or use them to segregate and store your supplies.
  10. Family photographs and emergency contact numbers. Both for your mental health, as well as for helping to locate missing persons. "Have you seen this person?!" is a much easier question to ask when you have a photo to point you. Your cell phone batteries are going to run down quickly, and you won't be able to simply plug it in to power it up to show shots of your friends taken at the bar the week before. Print out a few clear photos, including some that will cheer you up, and put them in your kit. Next year, you'll smile at them while you update the kit. An out-of-area contact (i.e. in another province) is a good way to check in on your family - keep a phone number printed out for inclusion in your kit. Don't forget to REGISTER with The Red Cross or any other agency volunteers that you encounter after the disaster.
  11. Cash. And some quarters. Debit and credit are electricity-dependent, so if you have to buy anything, it will be cash-only. Quarters are useful for payphones as cellular networks fail or crash, but finding a payphone might be harder than you'd expect. The best way to let your family know you're alright is to register with disaster-volunteers as emergency centres crop up in local schools and community centres. I would probably think that $100 or more would be a useful amount, but who knows what will happen when demand rises and supply is limited.
  12. Tealight candles and lighters. PLEASE pay attention to this warning - GAS LINES will have ruptured, and gas leaks will have occurred! Don't light up if you smell gas (if you smell gas, move away from the area ASAP). Do NOT use candles or matches within a vehicle - you will risk asphyxiation by carbon monoxide. The only safe place to use candles is outdoors where there is no risk of explosion or fire. Remember that synthetic materials (tarps, tents, polyester and polar fleece blankets) are flammable. I pack a few in my kit in the hope that I will be able to warm some water safely, if needed.

As as you can see, 90% of my earthquake kit is also my camping supplies! The sleeping mats, tarp, backpack for carrying everything, light-weight plastic camping cups and plates, first aid kit, flashlight, toiletry pack, extra blankets and small pillow, camping towel, toilet paper, etc. - it's all stuff I use in the summertime!

The only additional things are the water containers and canned food, and they fit nicely into reusable (durable) cloth tote bags.

Tote bags for food and water - and a bag of plastic bags and toilet paper

Being prepared doesn't mean spending a fortune - in fact, you probably already have the vast majority of supplies anyway. It might also mean that the money you invested in camping supplies you rarely use will be money well spent now that the gear can do double-duty!

Extra toothbrushes from the dentist piling up? Here's where you stash them!
Extra contact lenses for me, and trial-sized soap.

Here's hoping that you never, ever have to rely on your emergency kit to stay alive! Having a kit prepared can alleviate fear of a natural disaster, and it never hurts to be prepared just in case.

Being poor doesn't mean you can't be prepared! It'll just take a little more innovation and efficiency. I hope that some of these ideas makes putting together your own emergency kit a little easier.


      $49.99 for a wind-up AM/FM radio that will also charge your CELL PHONE (USB port for charging), and also 2 hand-crank LED flashlights.

    2. Very smart way to build a kit! Never thought about double duty camping gear..... well, I'll take it as inspiration to organize our gear better!