Earthquake Prep 101: The Time To Get Ready For the Big One Is Now

How to prepare for a catastrophic earthquake in California

The post was originally published in December of 2013.

The ground feels steady, but are you ready for an earthquake to strike? If not, the best place to start is by making a disaster action plan for you and your family (it’s free!) and learning how to react during and after a quake.’s Family Communication Plan for Parents and Kids is a downloadable worksheet that covers everything you’ll want to determine for your brood, from how you’ll contact each other in an emergency if you’re not together to where to meet up post disaster.

Once you’ve agreed on an action plan, it’s time to put together your emergency kits.

Not sure what you really need, or how much of it to stash? We’ve sifted through the recommendations of the California Office of Emergency Services, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and U.S. Geological Survey to put together this curated list of basics. After all, getting your home, car, and office earthquake ready should be as easy as it is to stop, drop, and cover.

Here’s what experts suggest you include:


In a disaster, dehydration is a primary danger, especially in a warm and dry climate such as ours. You’ll also need water for cleanliness and to mix with any dehydrated food items.
How much:
One gallon of water per day for each member of your household—or more—for 72 hours.


To save yourself from having to update the kit often, include only non-perishable items such as canned meats and vegetables, peanut butter, dry nuts and fruits, crackers, protein bars and cereal, and dehydrated pasteurized-milk. Aim for a high energy, high protein diet but remember to take into consideration your family’s personal dietary needs and preferences.
How much:
Again, you’ll need 72-hours’ worth, per member of your household.
Don’t forget: A manual can opener.

A Radio

A battery-powered or hand-crank radio will connect you to news reports if/when cell phone service is unavailable.
How many:
One, plus two sets of unopened batteries to power it.


In emergency situations power is often disrupted, so it’s not unreasonable to expect electricity may be out for days or weeks following a large earthquake. If a disaster happens in the middle of the night, as it did during the Northridge quake, which occurred at 4:30 a.m., flashlights can help you identify hazards and find help quickly even before it’s light out.
How many:
One per person, plus two sets of unopened batteries to power it.

A First Aid Kit

Look for a kit that includes at bare minimum: adhesive bandages, antiseptic wipes, antibiotic ointment, tweezers and scissors, gauze pads, compress dressings and an instant cold compress, aspirin, non-latex gloves, a thermometer, hydrocortisone ointment and adhesive cloth tape. The Red Cross gives guidelines on how many of each item a family of four should have on hand.
How many:

A Tool Kit

It’s unlikely you’ll need to access every tool in the garage, but having a wrench and pliers handy will enable you to turn off utilities if needed. A whistle could be necessary to signal for help from rescue workers.
How many: One.

Dust Masks

Post-earthquake, breathing could be difficult due to any unsettled dust in the air. A mask would protect your lungs as you search for help.
How many:
One per person.

Hygiene and Sanitation Supplies

Think antibacterial gel, plastic bags and twist-ties, toilet paper, and personal wipes. For women, this may also include tampons or maxi pads.
How much: Enough for your family to use for 72 hours.

Local Maps

Roads and normal routes are likely to be interrupted in a crisis. Local maps will help you find the best way to reach a rescue center, especially if you have to travel on foot. Keep maps that detail your immediate neighborhood and the greater Los Angeles area. AAA is a good resource for obtaining these.
How many: At least one.


Cell phone batteries are unpredictable, and who knows when you will have last charged your phone when a disaster strikes. Having solar-powered chargers or pre-charged portable chargers (like this one, available at Best Buy) for your mobile will keep your phones running when you need them but can’t access electricity.
How many: One charger per family cell phone.


It may not be possible for you to reach your doctor or pharmacy for prescription or non-prescription drugs in an emergency. Stashing a supply of any medications you take will help keep you healthy. Since medications expire, set a reminder in your phone or calendar to toss and replace any stored medications once they are no longer good.
How much: Officials recommend keeping a 7-day pillbox with any vital medicines for each member of your family.

A Fire Extinguisher

Small fires are the most common hazard after an earthquake, so a fire extinguisher could be vital for your family’s safety.
How many: One.

Comfort Items

Less important than food, water, and medical supplies, sleeping bags and extra sets of clothes, specifically long-sleeved shirts and pants, may come in handy.
How many: Again, the 72-hour to one-week rule applies.

Important Personal Documents

It’s possible you wont be able to access businesses and/or their digital services, so it’s a good idea to place hard copies of your financial records, insurance policies, and IDs in a waterproof container within your emergency kit, and to stash a flash drive with digital copies as well. Experts suggest including additional paperwork/items that pertain to your household, such as birth certificates, social security cards and green cards, marriage licenses, wills, mortgage or real estate deeds, vehicle registration, and financial advisor contact information in addition. You can use the Emergency Financial First Aid Kit planner to gather everything you need.

Cash and a Check Book

Like other businesses, banks (or the ATM) may not be accessible in an emergency. Have your checkbook or traveler’s checks easily accessible and store additional cash for emergency use.

Don’t have time to put together your own kit? The Red Cross offers several versions. The deluxe backpack contains most basic survival items for $95.00; sale proceeds support the organization.

Got pets? They’ll need a disaster kit, too. Essentials include food and water for a week, copies of vet records, a leash, and any medications. Create a plan for each pet in your household, including care from neighbors in case you cannot return home.

NEXT: Store Your Kits Where You’ll Need Them Most
Now that your kits are taken care of, where should you keep them?
Experts suggest storing one in your home and a second in your car. If in-office kits are not provided by your employer, it’s not a bad idea to have one for your workplace, too.

FINALLY: Make Your Home Disaster Ready
Unfortunately, preparing for an earthquake doesn’t end with storing personal essentials. In addition to securing heavy hanging objects to walls, placing glass items in protective cases that latch, and storing large breakable objects on lower shelves, experts recommend keeping a pair of comfortable shoes, such as sneakers, by your bed for easy access over night.