If you live in the US, mark your calenders: It’s the Great American Shake- out drill.

check out this link for more information.

so what do you do when an earthquake strikes?

when I lived in Minnesota, we always kept emergency supplies in our car (in case we got caught in a snowstorm or skidded off the road and got stuck). It included food for two days (canned food, snack food, and ramen noodles), a water jug, and a three wick disaster candle. We also had a small pot to boil water over the candle, and some blankets and two subzero sleeping bags.

But in Oklahoma, we kept the emergency supplies in a sealed plastic box in our garage, (with an added water purification device and a change of clothing added to the list). Of course, this was a bit ridiculous, since if the tornado hit our town the garage would probably end up in Kansas, while we were hiding in our neighbor’s tornado shelter.

Here in the Philippines, our houses are concrete block with rod reinforcement, so they should crumble but not fall unless we had a bad earthquake. So far, our family has gotten through half a dozen typhoons (with local flooding), an earthquake, and even Mt Pinatubo without too many problems.

As for emergency supplies: Behala na!

Presumably our stored rice would keep us alive, and if the quake was really devestating, we would have to walk to our nearby farm, where more rice is stored and we can get fresh vegetables to eat.

Nothing new about such plans: when the Japanese attacked in 1941, Lolo tells how he and his mom walked there carrying a suitcase and a small child…took them over a day to get there, but they stayed until things quieted down.

Here, most folks fleeing disaster try to flee to a relative’s house, and the rest go to schools or shelters where the government tries to keep them fed.

Same thing happens in the US, of course. The population of Grand Forks took refuge in the nearby Air Force base or with relative or in motels outside their area when that town was flooded. In another incident, my son and his girlfriend drove in and rescued her disabled father from flooding after a hurricane and the three of them spent two weeks in a motel in central North Carolina before it was safe enough to go home and clean up his apartment.

Usually things work out better than the headlines suggest, which is the problem with magnifying bad news in the 27/7 world of cable news channels.

Such exaggeration has consequences: Indeed, if the headlines today show a distrust of the Federal government by the “tea party” types, maybe it’s because of the terrible press the Federal Government got after Hurricane Katrina, where the problems were spun and magnified for political reasons to destroy President Bush.

The real lesson of Hurricane Katrina was that so few died. An article in 1991 Scientific American estimated fifty thousand would die if New Orleans was flooded, and the reality, i.e. 3000 plus deaths, although terrible,  could have been much worse.

The reason that it wasn’t worse was that the evacuation actually worked, and because  hundreds of thousands of people helped rescue and care for a couple million refugees.

From a Popular Mechanics article debunking the myths:

REALITY: Bumbling by top disaster-management officials fueled a perception of general inaction, one that was compounded by impassioned news anchors. In fact, the response to Hurricane Katrina was by far the largest–and fastest-rescue effort in U.S. history, with nearly 100,000 emergency personnel arriving on the scene within three days of the storm’s landfall.

as for New Orleans, a similar success story was overlooked:

REALITY: When Nagin issued his voluntary evacuation order, a contraflow plan that turned inbound interstate lanes into outbound lanes enabled 1.2 million people to leave New Orleans out of a metro population of 1.5 million.

So why plan for earthquakes or other disasters? Because it saves lives. And because no matter how good is the rescue, the dirty little secret is that it takes hours, if not a couple days, for help to arrive. See that part above about “100 000 emergency personnel” who arrived within 3 days? Translation: for a couple days, you may be on your own.

And the bad news about earthquakes is that even such “safe” places such as Boston and South Carolina and upper New York State have had devestating quakes in the past. And the even worse news is recent reports of small earthquake swarms in Oklahoma and Arkansas.

Map of recent quakes from University of Memphis.

Earthquakes in Oklahoma? Probably too small to worry about…unless the New Madrid fault line blows. Then you could be in trouble, not so much from damage (usually wooden houses survive earthquakes) but from a flood of refugees from the cities.

But it’s good that the government is keeping people alert to dangers; and, of course, the same disaster preparations would work in case of a WMD attack or a small nuclear attack on a US city.

As for us: We usually keep a week of medicine here and extra clothing in our nearby farm just in case.

So we should be okay if the house doesn’t fall on top of us, and indeed most rural folks in the Mid West already have some preparation since tornado threats are a constant reminder that your world could literally blow away with little warning. Ditto for those in California who lived through the earthquakes, and those who lived along the Gulf Coast, have painful memories to remind them that they too face natural disasters and need to be prepared.

But if you live in other areas of the US, especially in the city, you really should make plans, including evacuation plans, just in case.

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Headsup to Instapundit, who has an ongoing series of links about disaster preparedness.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. She blogs at Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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