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Will you be ready when a big earthquake strikes California?
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During the last year, a number of earthquakes have struck around the world. The quakes of Chile, New Zealand, and Japan may appear random, but according to geologist Jim Berkland, there is a pattern that bears watching. He suggests that in the very near future, California may be the next site of a major quake. Mr. Berkland points to a clockwise pattern featuring quakes that have struck along the "Pacific Ring of Fire" which is a geological area that runs along the western edge of the United States. The Pacific Ring of Fire represents a very geologically active area where the earth's plates, in effect, collide with each other. That these recent earthquakes have occurred along the Ring of Fire, coupled with other factors Mr. Berkland points to, causes him to believe that we are due for a major quake.

Earthquake science is still very crude and accurate predictions of them are elusive. Few geologists are willing to make predictions, and of the few predictions made, most do not materialize. Jim Berkland, however, did accurately predict the 7.1 magnitude Loma Prieta earthquake that occurred on Oct. 17, 1989. Predictions aside, we do know that the earth has produced several large quakes in a relatively short time period, and these quakes, indeed, are occurring in a geologically active region that encompasses the western portion (California included) of North America. It is both wise and prudent to be prepared for earthquakes and other calamities. In California, the most prevalent natural threats to us are earthquakes, floods and fires. Persons living near coastal areas or dams are susceptible to tsunamis and dam breaks that occur as a result of earthquakes.

In the event of major catastrophes, people will have to depend on themselves without the expectation of any kind of emergency services for at least 24 to 48 hours - or longer. And to the extent that emergency services personnel are available and able to move about, they will first attend to the persons most imperiled with physical injuries. Water and electricity may be unavailable for days and possibly weeks, depending on the extent of damage to the water system infrastructure and power production and delivery system.

When a large earthquake strikes the northern or central California area, you can still expect infrastructure damage, which is something about which not much can be done. You can, however, prepare for some of the other problems. Water and food are two of the most basic needs that you must plan for. The water sources, like our faucets, which are what we normally depend on, may not deliver if the supply lines or pumps are damaged. You can be assured that the stores will sell out very quickly if there is a water shortage for whatever reason. It is also important to learn about the "shelf life" of stored water and how to keep it safe for drinking. To give you an idea, water from public supply systems is generally good for six months if stored in a cool, dark place. Bottled water may last one year. In any event, stored water needs to be "turned over" at six month intervals, and you should plan to have at least 1.5 gallons per day for each person in the household.

Food is a different matter. Many foods can be stored for long periods of time and the point is to plan to have basic food items that will cover at least a one-week period. If infants or children are part of the family, then the planning is a bit more complex.

Everyone needs to keep in mind that in a major disaster situation, most people will be on their own for the first 48 hours, so we all have to plan accordingly. Take Ceres, for example. There are some 43,000 people living here with less than a total of 90 public safety personnel serving the community. Even with federal assistance, volunteers, the Red Cross and similar organizations, it is obvious that only those people who have life-threatening situations or injuries will be attended to in the first 48 critical hours. There are simply not enough resources to help everyone in need.

Because of article space limitations, I have not attempted to cover all the recommended preparations for earthquakes and other disasters. This is something that you can (and should) do by visiting appropriate websites like and An often overlooked step that I recommend you act on without delay, however, is to have a communications plan for members of your family. This is so they will know what to do in case they become separated during an earthquake or other disaster, and to have a plan for reuniting. The American Red Cross recommends that an out-of-state relative or friend serves as the "family contact." After a disaster, it is often easier to call long distance. Make sure everyone in the family knows the name, address, and phone number of that contact person.

Most people have good intentions to be prepared, but few actually take the steps necessary to get ready for disasters that loom in the future. The earthquake disasters of the recent past should be our wake-up call to action. By getting ready now you may well spare yourselves some unnecessary or even life-threatening difficulties.