ActivismAfternoon Inquisition

AI: Are You Ready For The Big One?

We get asked this question a lot in California. “Are you ready for the BIG one?” If you live in Oklahoma, “the big one” might refer to a tornado or perhaps where you live hurricanes or volcanos are the issue but in California, “the big one” refers to the next big earthquake on the horizon.

With Japan in our hearts and minds it’s a good time to remind everyone to get prepared. Regardless of what natural disaster is most likely to strike your neighborhood, the fact remains that there are unpredictable risks involved in all of our homelands and many of us are unprepared.

A twitter friend brought this question to my attention:


Should we be leading the way in helping people think critically about natural disaster preparedness? Do you have a plan worked out with your family if disaster strikes? If so what is your plan?

Ps: Here is a link to help you build your own disaster kit.

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 3pm ET.

Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia, science-loving artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics and is currently in love with pottery. Daily maker of art and leader of Mad Art Lab. Support her on Patreon. Tip Jar is here.

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  1. I have bottled water and many bottle of wine!


    Oh yeah.. and batteries, first aid kit, canned food and dry food etc. ;)

  2. Plans are perfect. They work really well right up until the disaster happens and throws everything into chaos.

    Plan A and Plan B are a good start. Step 2 is to teach yourself how to improvise and deal with things as they happen.

    I like the idea of stocking up. Of course, if your house is the one that collapses in the earthquake while you’re at the movies, it doesn’t do a lot of good.

  3. Well, the part about this that is the scariest is that the Japanese did have systems in place to help in the event of a massive earthquake. Even if you are ready for the big one, depending on how big that is, your efforts may/may not have any affect at all.

    That considered, had the systems not been in place in Japan to cope with a massive quake, the number of casualties would surely be much, much higher.

    So, because it is an issue that can be looked at with a skeptical eye, I would say that skeptics should take steps in two directions; providing assistance and input in disaster preparedness, and being ready to help post-disaster.

    Had somebody who was more skeptically minded come up with the FB group for Japan’s aid, it likely would not have been called “Pray for Japan” and the word “pray” made me very wary about endorsing such a thing.

    It has been made clear, time and time again, that skeptics are great in number and sometimes have a bit of trouble getting involved or weighing in when religious terminology is thrown around (mostly because we are used to being hounded out of the room for engaging such topics). Skepchick is an awesome place because you can be skeptical here and nobody hounds you out of anywhere. There’d be much greater skeptical support in times like these if there was a place we could be to show support for the victims and interest in prevention without having to “pray”.

    In terms of what we have planned as individuals… not much. Evacuate in a calm and orderly manner, I guess.

  4. It’s also important to have a plan if your are away from home. My husband and I have a meeting places set up if we are separated during a disaster.

  5. Most disasters these days are man-made. In the US, the next big one will probably be the government shut down and default on the US debt by the GOP teabaggers.

    That will freeze financial systems, put a run on banks and probably stop transport of essential supplies (because fuel will be unavailable due to a frozen financial system). I hope farmers can get enough fuel and seed to plant this year.

    Unfortunately there won’t be a way to fix it until the 2012 election.

  6. I live in a city with almost no danger of natural disaster. We’re well equipped to deal with fire and flooding, too far inland for hurricanes, too far southeast for much in the way of snowstorms, and we’ve never had a (damaging) tornado or earthquake on record.

    However, I’m stockpiling weapons and supplies against the Christian Right Zombie Apocalypse. They’re coming soon, and I will be ready.

  7. The Big One was Hurricane Katrina. We got the hell out. Some you prepare for, others you run away from.

  8. It important to consider what kinds of disaster preparedness are effective against which kinds of natural disasters. The earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster in Japan makes the point that at some point disasters can overwhelm otherwise adequate preparations.

    By definition “The Big One” is the one people will be unable to cope with by normal means.

  9. It is not about individuals, in my opinion. Yes, I understand that the disaster kit is essential and I like the list that Amy linked to. Thanks Amy. I am skeptical about how far that will take us when, for instance, the San Andreas finally wakes up. Even after Northridge, my neighborhood was without power and fresh water for 6 days. There was no staying at home. I think in the event of a larger quake, an evacuation plan is important for families with small children. The rest of us should probably hang around to help but how far can my disaster kit take me? Can I really stand to hoard my canned food and bottled water while I am surrounded by people who never had or lost their supplies? I don’t think so.

    No city can prepare for weeks of food supply interruption and the loss of portions of the fresh water source and power grid. This is something that really needs to be dealt with on a global scale. With no idea where the next disaster is going to hit, I think that this is the only thing that makes sense. What we need is a more efficient system of delivering the aid. Separating politics and religion from humanitarian aid might make it more efficient but I am unsure how it might be coordinated … although I suspect the internet would play a big role in any successful attempt.

  10. @reedbraden: Take it from me, Zombies are not exclusively members of the Christian Right. Our Post-Vital friends come from all walks of life equally. And they just want a hug. The whole brain-eating thing is really overblown.

    Remember, inside every living person is a dead one waiting to get out.

  11. Its a good thing that zombies are not exclusively from the Christian Right, or we wouldn’t have much of an apocalypse around here. Not enough of them. We could safely leave them to the bears. There are a lot more bears. They would have to ration.

    Other than that, we have no real extemes weather, not all that close to major faults. Remote chance of a volcano, though. Still, our best bet for a Disaster would be the zombie apocalypse.

  12. I think I prefer “Zombie Jubilee” myself.

    As far as disasters go, I live in the Ohio River Valley, so we’re pretty much flooded already. I actually had to turn off my text notifications from the NOAA because of the deluge of flood notifications. Luckily ours are slow and predictable.

    We do get the occasional earthquake, but I think (and I might be wrong on this) that we’re not in any danger of a significant one due to us having wimpy faults or something.

    Tornadoes though, those are for the flatlander Ohioans. Jen should look out.

    Still, I think that disaster awareness is a great idea, as well as skeptical participation.

  13. @FlameTest:

    Too true. When it comes to the “Big One”, the best thing you can realistically hope for is more efficient aid. Quakes like the one in Japan are incredibly rare but unless you decide that you’re going to convert your home into a reinforced bunker, there’s not much more you can do besides knowing what to do in the event that a disaster of that scale strikes.

    Taking religion out of aid would certainly make the process a lot easier to get involved in for skeptics and atheists, I think, and the more people you can rally to help, the sooner things will be solved and the lower the death toll will be.

  14. My wife and I live in a motorhome. So if we know about a disaster before it happens, we just leave. If not, and we survive and the roads survive, we still would just leave.

    If we survive, but the roads do not (or something else keeps us from leaving), then we are still kind of OK, as we have on board:
    100 gals of water
    120 gal of diesel
    AC generator
    satellite TV
    Cellular Internet
    many weeks of food

    So, I guess I sort of live in a survival kit.

  15. I am ready as I can possibly be to shelter in place for the big one. Tons of supplies, handcrank radio, propane (and propane accessories), and husband and I will seriously be able to shelter for about 3 weeks without a problem.

    As far as the zombie apocalypse/jubilee goes, we have a motorcycle and a go-bag. Outta here…

    BTW – also from Northridge (currently in Burbank) and I plan to be sheltering. Maude help whomever tries to steal my supplies.

  16. When I first bought my house 18 years ago I spent many hours under the house adding earthquake frame and foundation supports and steel strapping. Aside from that we have food, water and stuff. The problem is that it’s all in the garage under one side of our house. I’ve read that if you have a small out building or secure garden shed that you can store some supplies in it’s better than in your house that may collapse or burn from a gas or electric fire.

    @Amy: Yea, we should do that as well being west coasters.

  17. My big fear is being hit by a tornado when the kids are in bed. I have no idea how to herd 2 small children and a dog downstairs and into a bathroom in under 10 seconds.

  18. We have a fallout shelter, a well that is over 350′ deep, generators, two well stocked gun safes, kegs of beer, a couple of physics degrees and some of the best survival training the Army provides. So yea, we are good at least until the beer runs out.

    Growing up on a farm, for fun a brother and I used to build trebuchets, cannons, rockets and cross bows that could stop a SUV. The world becomes a more interesting place when you learn how to make your own siege weapons and nitroglycerin.

  19. @Elyse:
    Sorry to be ignorant .. but why a bathroom? Is it reinforced? Lacking windows? Or maybe just practical, given that you have two small children? Maybe you need a firehouse pole. That would be fun for the kids, although a bit challenging for the dog.

  20. @m1yav1: I agree, speed is all important.

    It seems to me that the most important thing we can do to make rescue and relief aid better is to make sure that mobile phone service is not interrupted. I think that it would make a big difference if service was available as soon as possible – before victim’s batteries run out. I don’t know enough about mobile networks to know if this is possible – could you designate an emergency network that is always open like emergency radio channels are?

  21. Cast iron tubs are very strong and may protect someone supine in such a tub when parts of the house are falling down around them.

    @FlameTest a fiberglass tub will easily crush and squish you with it.

  22. Well, I never thought of a tub of any kind as protection from falling buildings. The lack of protection from above must have thrown me off. I guess I can see it providing protection if something larger than the tub happens to fall in a way that it can span across the tub. Yikes. That would be a frightening thing to watch happening above you.

  23. Being under a tornado is frightening no matter how you look at it. Sometimes riding it out in a bathtub may be the best, quickest option available.

  24. @Elyse: Pneumatic tube?

    IMO, being prepared is all well and good, right up until the looters come and steal what I managed to save. Or (far more likely) I share it with the people that don’t have as much.

    I believe that it’s not about hoarding and surviving on your own, but rather coming together as a community and helping each other survive.

  25. In many apartments and condos, the bathrooms are inside the structure with no windows or outside walls. The pipes also help act as structural supports in case of collapse. A basement is still better, IF you have time to get to it.

    @Elyse: from one former Chicagoan to another – You grab your kids, call the dog, dive in the bathtub and hope it all works out. (I hope you’ve got your dog trained for unquestioning recall – If not, you have work to do.) If you have a little more time, you might be able to get to your building’s basement.

    We have a 50+ year old house with a full basement. The oak lumber used to build this house has to be seen to be believed. The floor and roof joists are at least 4″ solid oak, for example. The roof joists are spaced at half the normal distance, so the roof can take a lot more weight than normal. We are high enough to avoid any flooding over the next few centuries. (This town was established in 1786 and hasn’t flooded yet.) The only known earthquakes have been pretty minor.

    @Datajack: From the desperate person’s point of view, I’d consider your motorhome a target. Hope you’ve given some thought to self-defense.

    We have various supplies stored and so forth. The problem is that one can’t plan for everything. Considering my location, for example, there’s no real escape in any direction from an all out nuclear war. Unfortunately, planning for a future disaster doesn’t garner many votes, which is why many communities don’t do any. Plus you have to keep the supplies fresh, facilities maintained, etc.

    Our plan for a major disaster that we see coming is to GTFO while we can. I see no logic or sense in staying to face down Mother Nature. The bitch always wins.

    @daedalus: I don’t see it getting that bad, mainly because many of the people in Washington would lose everything. Only the super rich would profit from a long term government shutdown and default. I also think you’d see a real, live shooting civil war if they attempted it – and at that points, all bets are off for everyone.

    On another note: FEMA has some great resources online and in hardcopy to help you plan for the survivable disasters. Don’t forget to include your pets needs in your planning.

  26. I plan on keeping living in a geologically stable country, away from areas at risk for: landslides, rock slides, flooding and tsunamis.

  27. @FlameTest:

    Sorry to be ignorant .. but why a bathroom? Is it reinforced? Lacking windows? Or maybe just practical, given that you have two small children?

    The downstairs bathroom is windowless and mostly free of things like appliances and electricity. It’s a small house with no basement… And even though the downstairs bathroom is actually just below the kids’ room, which would make it great for access, if a pole gets installed in my house, it’s gonna be in MY room. RAWR.

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