I developed a fear of quicksand in my youth as it was an oddly popular element of danger in 70’s TV shows. Eventually my friend assured me that “quicksand doesn’t exist.” Apparently it was just pretend on shows like Dukes of Hazard and The Bionic Woman to make them more exciting. So, we incorporated quicksand into our playtime, jumping from pillow to pillow that we’d toss on the brown and gold shag carpet. “Don’t fall into the quicksand!”
Such sweet memories…until recently when I learned a new word: liquifaction. This is what happens when an earthquake hits an area and dissolves the sediment in the ground until it becomes, yep, like quicksand, swallowing cars, people, whatever, when the ground shakes from solid into rapidly moving fine particles.
The liquifaction susceptibility map for King County predicts that when the big one hits, liquifaction will occur within a block of my home.
Since this discovery, I have awakened with a racing heart from earthquake/tsunami nightmares more times than I am willing to admit. The dreams depict chaos in the streets while water rapidly spills in and people cry out “Don’t fall into the quicksand!” In the dream I am frantically trying to decide what to grab before fleeing my house. Silent scream!
Soothing myself with Google searches into the wee hours, I found an abundance of websites chock full of information. I worried about my friends on nearby Vashon Island; would they become totally isolated, or worse? As I read on, the “big one” could turn my mainland community of Delridge into an island, cutting us off from the rest of Seattle and emergency services. Like our neighbors on Vashon Island, we will also be on our own.
Scanning disaster preparedness websites and lists of required emergency items to have on hand can send anyone into a head-spinning procrastination justification. I almost fell prey.
Just as I thought “I’ll do it later,” I saw a chilling camera-phone video of the recent devastation in Japan, reminding me that being sucked out to sea or swallowed by the earth are both pretty low on my favorite-ways-to-die list. I resolved to prepare.
I learned how to shut off my neighbor’s gas line, I learned that I should keep at least a week’s worth of ready-to-eat food and water in my house—not just 3 days—and I learned about the serenity that is the “Go Bag.”
A Go Bag is the backpack of necessities that everyone should have in a very accessible place if they need to flee their car, home or office. Assembling one sounded like a challenge but something I could accomplish if I set my mind to it.
Gathering my Go Bag items, I was a bit self-conscious, afraid people might look in my cart with raised eyebrows and think I was some kind of disaster preparedness freak.
When the topic came up with a checker at Target, she said “Honey, when I turned 16, my dad put a disaster survival kit in the trunk of my car. It’s the freaks who survive.”
I felt so emboldened by this that I started talking with everyone about Go Bags. As I asked friends, neighbors and strangers whether they had their Go Bag ready, I realized that attitudes toward natural disasters are yet another way to categorize human beings.
I found a continuum that exists in the disaster preparedness realm. My own unofficial study revealed 4 places people tend to land on the disaster preparation continuum.
Since putting together my Go Bag I not only find myself sitting proudly on a different spot on the continuum, but I can see my attitude about disasters, and even quicksand, changing. I feel adventurous instead of fearful. I’ve packed for a journey not knowing when it will take me by surprise.
The Go Bag
One approach to the Go Bag is to think of it as art in a backpack. The Go Bag is highly customizable and an expression of your personality.
My Go Bag reveals my thorough nature as it includes lots of options and little MacGyver randomness for those just-in-case instances that I tend to obsess over.
Your Go Bag may just include the necessities like food, water, some cash and a pair of hiking boots. That’s a very good start. If that’s all you do, you will be way ahead of most people.
Even if you keep your Go Bag simple there are 3 additional things I highly recommend:
- Print and laminate photos of each loved one. People are hard to describe and if you need to find them, you’ll wish you had some photos.
- Put the same out-of-area phone number in everyone’s Go Bag. (It will be easier to call long distance than locally in a disaster.)
- Copy documents (credit cards, home insurance, passport, etc.) and send to an out-of-state family member or trusted friend. Put a copy in your Go Bag as well, sealed in a Ziplock bag.
- Give yourself a deadline and act like that’s all the time you have. That’s the only way to get this knocked out. When I say deadline, I mean a week—not a year
- You go grocery shopping anyway. Just pick up a few extra items: easy-open canned meats or fish, protein bars, jerky, water bottles and vacuum-sealed nuts. Foods that don’t require cooking, water or tools to prepare but that provide lots of nutrients, protein, fat.
- Two words: thrift store.
- Be creative. Make it your own. Think of what you may encounter and how you would solve problems. What would keep you going if you were feeling discouraged. A photo, a quote, something lucky. Pack that.
- Think multiples. For each person, you should have a go bag for car and home and office. I bought boxed items like gauze and bandages and a case of small water bottles, etc. and divided them between our Go Bags.
If you are one of the many who think you will get to this later, consider telling that to your future self who may be stranded on the interstate, running on unsteady ground from your car in your flip flops or fleeing your home in your pajamas. I like to think of preparation as intentional inconvenience that very well could save my life.
Good luck. I hope I have inspired some of you to take action. Even if you do it quietly and hide your disaster preparedness freak flag, we’ll still count you as one of us, because it’s the freaks who will survive.
Karrie Kohlhaas cultivates small businesses by day and searches the internet for liquifaction maps and quicksand videos from her favorite childhood TV shows by night. Soon she will post a piece on disaster readiness for small businesses on her website, Thoughtshot Consulting.
Where do you land on the disaster preparedness continuum? Do you have a Go Bag? What’s in it? Tell us in the comments below.