Lessons From A Family Living Off Their Emergency Supplies For A Weekend

May 28, 2015

The Johnsons are aware that scientists predict a megaquake could hit Oregon at any time. But like many households in the state, they don’t feel prepared. OPB followed the couple on a recent weekend as they tried to live off their emergency supplies.

Ed and Sara Johnson sit with what remains of their water and propane supply. They say that over the course of the weekend they learned how to be more efficient with both.
Credit John Rosman / OPB

Ed and Sara Johnson just got home from work. The lights in their Southeast Portland home are off. At dusk it’s difficult to move around the kitchen without a headlamp.
They sit at their dinner table with Baby K, the cat, and go over the house rules for the weekend.
ED: No electricity, no running water.
SARA: No fridge, no freezer — oh, the popsicles are in there…
They cook a veggie chili on their propane camping stove.
But the dishes used for prep are piling up. Ed is meticulously clean. He's not happy.
ED: Look at all these dishhesssss…
SARA: Oh, that you can’t wash?
ED: What are we gonna do? We can’t turn on the sink!
JOHN: I feel like you’re out of your comfort zone right now, Ed.
ED: I do because I want to wash the dishes so that the dishes are done by the time we eat.
Over dinner they take a look at how their community would fare after a 9.0 earthquake.
The challenges facing their neighborhood after an event are stark. It could take two years for medical facilities to come back on line after a megaquake.
ED: That’s crazy
SARA: That’s really worrisome because that’s one of the most important things to be able to…
Their conversation continues into the night.
The next morning we see what would happen if an earthquake struck while they were sleeping.
ED: Walking downstairs. Let’s see. So my first concern is that our bed is right below a window. I mean, right below a window. In the event that there is an earthquake the glass could come and shatter right on top of us.
Another pressing issue after an earthquake strikes is the potential for a natural gas leak.
Experts say everybody in the home should know where the gas shutoff is.
I asked Ed if he knows. He thinks it’s in the crawl space below the house.
ED: (Crawling) It’s crazy down here! (Crawling) I think that’s it.
JOHN: What’s it?
ED: The one that’s in the furnace room is the gas shutoff to the house.
JOHN: (Laughing) OK.
Turns out, the gas shutoff wasn’t in the furnace room either. It was outside on the side of the house.
The Johnsons home was built in 1960. Homes built before the mid-1970s are unlikely to be bolted to their foundations—making them more vulnerable to earthquake damage.
The Johnsons don’t think their home is bolted down.
So we asked them to pack up everything they would need if they had to evacuate their home. They had 10 minutes.
Me: 1-2-3-G0
SARA: Well, I don’t know what I need.
Montage
ME: 5-4-3-2-1 . OK. Let’s see how we fared.
They have warm clothes, headlamps, a whistle, portable bags and some good walking shoes.

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