What if Your Family Prepared For a Megaquake, But Your Neighbors Forgot?

May 27, 2015

Experts say a magnitude nine earthquake off the Northwest coast could hit anytime. When it does, the Stephens family hopes to be resilient.
As part of OPB's "Living Off Your Kit" weekend we followed John and Megan and their two kids as they simulated a quake and lived off their emergency supplies.
The family learned they may be the only people on their block with an adequate supply of drinking water.

The Stephens family after a weekend living off their kit.
Credit Amelia Templeton / OPB

10 year old Sadie Stephens is getting ready for her first night of camping in the back yard, imagining that an earthquake has damaged her house. She unzips the tent she’s sharing with her mom.
I only brought my sneakers, a notebook. And I brought my stuffed animal because I can’t sleep without him.”
The rest of the family’s emergency gear is spread across the yard.
Boxes of freeze dried meals.
A radio charged by a small solar panel.
And about 30 gallons of water stored in large jugs.

 “So this is the third five gallon container.”

That’s Sadie’s dad, John Stephens. He’s a program officer with Mercy Corps. A real earthquake could badly damage the city’s water pipes.
So for the fake quake, the family is relying on their stored water to drink, do their dishes, and cook their dehydrated meals.

“It could be weeks before the city has water trucks coming down your street. It’s very unrealistic to think first responders are going to have enough for people. “

The family experienced an earthquake when they lived in China in 2013. That scare convinced them to prepare for the big one here.
The only thing their kit is missing is a skillet. That would be useful because one of their emergency food boxes contains dozens of silver packages of pancake mix.

Sadie’s brother Shea loves pancakes.
On Saturday, he pours some mix into a soup can and cooks it on the fire.

“’The cancake!”
“Cause it’s a pancake in a can.”

And I invented it by the way. No credit goes to mom.”

“I get some credit because it’s my can.”
“Is it cooked?”

But the Stephens aren’t just worried about feeding their own kids. They want to help their neighborhood after a disaster.
John has a chainsaw and crowbar for search and rescue operations.
And the parents plan to share their supplies with people who need help. Though when dad John suggest it to the kids they aren’t sold on that idea.

“What If another family said we forgot to pack food can we hang out with you guys?” John asks.
Megan “What would you do, Shea?”
Shea and Sadie “Nooo! Not happening. I’d slam the door!
“ What if Ezra came over? What would you do if your best friend came over?”
Sadie thinks. “I’d give her half my chicken noodle soup,” she declares.
“Yeah, there you go. That’s sharing.”

On Sunday, they knock on their neighbor’s doors, to find out who’s prepared and who will need help after a real quake.

Their friend Barb Fisher lives on the corner.

"I think I could be helpful with food, because I’m a single mom who shops at Costco. But not water. I mean, I probably have 15 pounds of pasta in the basement but how would we cook it?"

John tells her that in a real emergency, she could drain her hot water heater and use that.

“Oh, that’s exciting. I feel like I could contribute!
“You’re in the game!”
They say goodbye and head to another house.
“Myrna, hi, we’re your neighbors. Hi, it’s Megan and John. ”
Myrna is 87. She lives alone. She has plenty of food and cat food, but again, no bottled water.
“Well, if there’s a big earthquake, we’re coming over to see what you need, okay? Oh yeah, okay. And we’ll see what food you have. We’ll take cat food. We’ll take anything.”

Over the course of the day, Megan and John talk to five of their neighbors. John is shaken by what he learns. Not one has water stored.

“I wasn’t expecting them all to be unprepared.”

John realizes he needs to encourage more of his neighbors to prepare. There’s only so far the family can stretch their food and water.

“If we have a great kit and we come into a community where we’re one out of 100 families that’s prepared, it’s going to have some pretty bad consequences. I’m worried about what that’s going to mean.

The Red Cross recommends you store 14 gallons of water and 42 meals per person. That’s enough to last about two weeks.

Copyright 2015 OPB