July 16, 2015

Preparing for 'The Really Big One'

By Stan Chernicoff

In the past four days, some of you may have spent a thoroughly unnerving twenty minutes reading Kathryn Schulz's "The Really Big One"—a terrifying portrait of the likely effects and aftermath of the next great Cascadia earthquake published in the July 20 issue of The New Yorker.

Few if any seismologists in our region would contest or deny that a catastrophic earthquake in the Pacific Northwest is inevitable. It will happen. There is no doubt. Of course the critical question is... When? Will this disaster strike tonight? On Sunday? Or sixty years from this morning?

The answer to this critical question, despite our considerable efforts, continues to elude us. So what would the wisest among us do in light of this horrifying tectonic reality? Prepare.

Do you have an earthquake kit assembled and accessible near an exit door of your home or apartment? Does your kit contain all or most of the following items?

Earthquake preparedness kit checklist
The following checklist is from the Sereno Earthquake Preparedness Kit Checklist. More items for your preparedness list can be found here.

  • 1 gallon per person per day
(Avoid foods like rice and pasta that require more water to prepare. Restock once per year.)
  • Canned meats, soups, fruits and vegetables
  • Dry milk and juice drinks
  • Sugar, salt and pepper
  • High energy foods: peanut butter, jelly, crackers, granola bars and trail mix
  • Comfort foods: cookies, candy, instant coffee, tea
  • Vitamins
  • Special needs: infants, special diet, pet food
First Aid
  • Band-Aids
  • Gauze
  • Roller bandages
  • Scissors
  • Antiseptic
  • Soap/anti-bacterial
  • Moist towelettes
  • Petroleum jelly
  • Pain reliever
  • Other non-prescription medications
  • Sunscreen
  • Latex gloves
  • Tweezers
  • Thermometer
  • Safety pins
  • Paper plates and napkins
  • Plastic utensils
  • Flashlight
  • Battery-powered radio
  • Batteries
  • Cash
  • Can opener
  • Tape
  • Matches in waterproof container
  • Foil
  • Tape
  • Paper and pencil
  • Needle and thread
  • Wrench
  • Pliers
  • Signal flare
  • Ponchos
  • Blankets or sleeping bags/warm clothes
  • Toilet paper
  • Garbage bags
  • Soap
  • Plastic bucket
  • Disinfectant
  • Household bleach
Document copies
(Best to store these in a waterproof bag)
  • Will/insurance
  • Passport/social security cards
  • Immunization records
  • Bank account numbers
  • Credit card numbers
  • Contracts/stocks
Also, be sure that all sleeping quarters are "earthquake-proofed": 
  • beds should be distanced from glass windows
  • there should be no heavy bookshelves or heavily-framed wall hangings above your sleeping head
All members of your household (including easily-terrified youngsters) need to know the family's evacuation plan. Where will you all assemble after leaving your house? Who will grab the earthquake kit? 

There is, of course, nothing we can personally do to prevent quake-induced landslides, I-5 bridge collapses, and devastating tsunami damage in Aberdeen, Hoquiam, and Grays Harbor along the Washington coast. But there is much that YOU can do to safeguard the well-being of your loved ones. Be the wisest among us—and prepare!

Check out the Seattle Times' article "'The Really Big One'? Get ready now, quake experts advise" published July 14, 2015 for lots of valuable tips to help with your preparations. 


Dr. Stan Chernicoff taught Geology at the University of Washington for over 25 years. During his tenure, he distinguished himself as a professor who has a unique rapport with his students and his subject. In 2000, he received the University of Washington Distinguished Teacher Award for his mastery of subject matter, intellectual rigor, lively curiosity, commitment to research and passion for teaching.