Quake Tips

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Like many, before March 11th. 2011 here in Japan, I thought I wasn’t too badly prepared for an earthquake, but what we all learned was that there’s always things you can change and add. Here are a few things I’m doing, but obviously match it to your own needs and situation (e.g. I live in a house, so whilst a ladder is useful, it’s less so than in apartments etc.).  Also remember there are likely to be lots of aftershocks, and potentially no power, and logistics  for food and fuel only become apparent after a few days (in Japan).

The truth is, a decent amount of quake emergency kit are things you’d probably have around the place, and some are things which can serve several ‘normal’ purposes too – likely you just need a few more of them. Ironically for me, I’d started buying some camping gear in January and February for use in the summer, and we got great usage out of it.  If anyone has some suggestions, please contact me.

I’ve also added some bits based on ‘clean up’ following my own experience in Tohoku in north west Japan, struck by that massive Tsunami.

We ended up with two sets: the ‘life at home’ set which was in some plastic storage boxes next to the dinner table, and a mobile set, which was two backbacks with a few days clothes, some tinned food and water, and so on in case we had to leave for whatever reason. Looking back this seems a bit over the top, but in the week after the quake especially, it seemed reasonable as people wondered if further M9 quakes would come. As you’ll see in the list, most of the items are either day to day anyway, or are small, dual purpose or easy to store – we don’t have a lot of space and if worst comes to worst, you want to be mobile.  It’ll also depend on whether your area is unsafe, evacuated, or actually damaged.

So here are some items we found useful, though many Embassies also maintain a guide:

General In The House /Apartment & Food

  • The cooking fuel for our house is all electric, so no power to cook in a blackout. Friends with gas have all told me that the gas will switch off automatically during a major temblor, so everyone should get a secondary fuel source – or at least know how to turn your gas back on if it’s safe to do so, and if you’re allowed to!. We went with two additional sources, in the shape of a small camping stove, which we’d bought before for camping, and a standard Japanese ‘gas bombe’ powered flat table stove type usually used for doing shabushabu and such on the dining table. I’d made sure when I bought the camping stove that it took these same standard bottles rather than the camping bottles, as you can buy these anywhere.
  • In the short term, use up fresh things first, and check the freezer if power is going off frequently. We had about 4-5 days of food which needed to be eaten in that time frame, and then perhaps another 10 days in dried and tinned food. There was also some debate about rice rice vs. quick cook pasta as the former requires a lot of water and cooking energy.
  • Water: large and small bottles so they can be opened and closed and buffered as needed.
  • Batteries: We have a good stock of rechargeable batteries, which I generally keep a decent percentage of charged; also we kept a few alkaline batteries. We only hold AA and AAA batteries – you can get spacers to use the AAs in other devices. As would expected – these sell out quickly, so keep a stock. A supplemental battery for a mobile phone isn’t a bad idea either.
  • Solar charger: I also have a Solio which as it’s name suggests is a solar charging battery and this was useful as a battery backup for my phone (You can also charge the battery from the mains if need be).
  • laptops – having a laptop, even a cheap netbook was a great way of staying in touch when internet allowed, and when there’s power, a surprising number of things can be charged from USB, including kids games and such. It’s also a source of things for the kids to watch / play.
  • BBQ – keeping a supply of charcoal year round and a cheap BBQ set means you have a source of warmth and food cooking ability, but it’s easy to forget you have it in winter. Also, neighbours can pool to use it for a bit of a morale booster.

Misc. Clothing

  • Helmets – most emergency packs in Japan have helmets, and whilst their real merit is debatable as many are quite flimsy plastic, I’m leaving it in here, as in our office some ceiling tiles fell, and the helmet may have at least prevented serious injury (just being a minor injury perhaps). For children it’s definitely a good idea if quakes are ongoing, due to other debris like books flying around.
  • Goggles – worth having around. We didn’t make any use of them, but the potential for dust could be high.
  • Face masks – for protecting against dust and so on, these are incredibly common, but make sure you have a few in your quake kit. I also have an ‘industrial strength’ one with swappable filters and a valve I got for the Iwate tsunami clean-up trip, and it adds one huge benefit – it cuts out a lot of the smell too!
  • Blankets and extra layers – it gets cold in a lot of places in March without power.

Safety & Communications

  • Fire extinguishers in key locations – you should have these anyway!
  • A spare keitai/mobile phone from a second carrier – with an additional battery if possible – a cheap one pay as you go, for areas where one carrier is down. As for land lines – don’t forget these – they worked even when the cellphone coverage was down or had been seconded to emergency services, which is understandable. Skype is great on many phones as in mid March voice on mobiles was down, but data was fine – so you could still call over 3G data Skype.
  • A large table to get under in a quake; we got very good at getting under ours quite a few times in the hundreds of quakes which struck in the months after the M9. As I understand it, doorways are no longer regarded as the best place, so get under the dining table or desk, and keep kit near it.
  • Previously, I’d bought a wind up light/radio made by Sony, which worked very well, and provided some entertainment for the kids during some of the blackouts such as watching me crank it, listening to this quaint thing called ‘radio’ where someone else choses the music for you, and then talks all over it, and of course keeping up with news, but not taking up a battery.
  • Filling the bath (ofuro) up was one tip I was told when I arrived in Japan, but doesn’t seem so common now, straight after a quake – it’s a guaranteed source of clean water which should be drinkable and usable for washing, toilet duty and drinking for several days, just in case the mains are disconnected for checking, or are leaking.
  • Contact phone number list – keep a list of all family members numbers, local authorities, embassies etc.. We keep a paper one on the fridge, along with Skype contacts and e-mails. We also keep a paper copy in a ziploc in the quake kit.
  • Local assembly points – make sure you know local safe areas and assembly points, not just for you office, but home areas also.
  • Retrieving kids from school etc. – make sure you understand the procedure for picking kids up from school – you may not be able to use a car, so be aware of walking distance and alternative routes to get there and return. If a tsunami is involved, be clear with the school what the routing is as in Iwate some people died due to mis-interpreting some of the rules.
  • Embassy contacts – make sure you’re registered with your embassy and have their contact details – you *will* want to check in with them, and vice versa. If worst comes to worst, these are the people you will likely end up talking to, but also if like me you have a small child without travel documents, these people are the ones who will be helping you out.
  • You want to have some light, so get a camping lantern, bicycle lights, flashlights etc. (see batteries later) for when the lights go out. We had powercuts for a few weeks afterwards, and if you have small kids, the tension goes up when the lights go out. Don’t forget less obvious sources too, such as garden solar lights etc.. I got this quad LED lantern for camping and it was excellent in the blackouts, as each person in the family could use one.[]
  • Wedge doors open – if the geometry of the structure changes, you could find yourself stuck in a room!

Misc. utilities

  • Tin opener – most tins nowadays have ringpulls, but this can be a real saver when they dont, and since you may be looking at a few days on tinned food, it just makes sense – Mine is a basic bladed one, not a winding one as I want something with no moving parts which can break.
  • Zip Loc bags – it’s great to have these, they mean things can be sealed, and separated so they don’t get lost or wet.
  • Vehicle fuel – after major natural disasters, the govt. may restrict fuel and road usage, and even then local supplies will run out after a day or two and there will likely be rationing – dont plan on going out on the roads unless you are confident you can get there and back, and remember, some roads are designed to be closed to non emergency vehicles after quakes and tsunamis.
  • Multi-knife – like a Swiss Army knife, or a Leatherman or similar will always be useful.
  • A lighter with lighter fluid for candles and anything else. I went with a Zippo over disposables, but there probably isn’t much in it.
  • Candles are always good to keep a few of around, especially if you don’t know how long the power will be out for – IKEA sell the largest ones I’ve seen in Japan, so that might be worth checking out.
  • Other camping equipment such as the tent.
  • Parachute cord – which is incredibly useful just in general!
  • Toilet paper – keep lots of spare toilet paper – after water, it was the first thing to run out in the shops.
  • Chemical toilet box – you can buy these in most shops – it’s basically a sturdy cardboard box with a chemical bag in it – useful if the sewerage/water has been stopped (this happened in several places after the March 11th quake).

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