MamaLA: Keeping Safe in a Quake

Devra Schwartz, a certified emergency manager, addresses some parent-specific concerns

Yasmine and Soraya grew up in Los Angeles, and like many native Angelenos, they’ve experienced their share of earthquakes and accumulated a decent amount of knowledge when it comes to preparations. Before the birth of her now four-year-old son, Maverick, Yasmine decided to get her household really ready, so in her garage, she has a very large bin filled with basic supplies, including: canned food, a can opener, plenty of water, a non-battery operated radio, flashlights, batteries, personal hygiene wipes, diapers, board games (for bored kids), and snack foods. She keeps a note inside the bin with expiration dates for the food, water, and batteries and, every January, uses and replaces anything that is on its way out.

But in the wake of recent jolts, Yasmine and Soraya have stopped and questioned whether they’re truly ready for “the big one.” Even with supplies on hand, they realized there are some very basic, critical things they have never addressed with their families, like having regular emergency drills, determining a meeting place if separated, and designating an out-of-state point person should California phone lines become overloaded.

To be fully prepared for a natural disaster, and specifically a major earthquake, it’s important to take advantage of the many online resources out there, like and The Red Cross even has a special website ( specifically created to “prepare SoCal.” All of these sites provide detailed and invaluable information, which serves as a great starting point, but for MamaLA purposes, Soraya and Yasmine wanted to consider situations that haunt parents anytime we feel a tremble.

They reached out to knowledgeable expert Devra Schwartz, a certified emergency manager, mom, wife, and native Southern Californian. Devra, currently the director of management and strategic initiatives at Loyola Marymount University, will be leading some important workshops this month at The Pump Station (1248 Vine Street), and was eager to address these parent-specific concerns. She offered tremendous insight while narrowing the conversation to some very doable recommendations.

Devra’s common-sense approach assuaged Yasmine and Soraya’s fears. “There needs to be a paradigm shift when we think about emergency preparedness,” she said. “So many people believe that they are prepared because they have an emergency kit filled with supplies. To be truly prepared, however, you really need to take a holistic approach: think about what you can do now to eliminate potential hazards at home or work—such as securing heavy furniture to the wall. Create a family communications plan. Think about what you should do and where you should go during an emergency. Not only will you be more prepared, but the more you plan, the less you worry.”

What’s the most important supply?
The number-one most important thing for your emergency kit is water. You should have at least one gallon of water per person per day, for at least three days. Keep in mind that your water heater is a great source for clean water in an emergency.

What happens if a major quake hits and our young child is down the hall in a crib?
I hear moms and dads say that no matter how bad the shaking is, nothing will stop them from darting to their kids’ rooms to be there with them during the earthquake. As a mom with a toddler, I completely get it. But the reality is, we all need to think of it like the “oxygen-mask rule” on an airplane—secure your mask before assisting others. If you get hurt—lose your balance, step on something sharp, or something falls on you and injures you—you’ll be much worse off. A couple of tips: keep hard-soled slippers or shoes by your bedside. If you must get to your kids’ rooms, stay low to the ground and be aware of your surroundings. Always secure heavy furniture to the walls and keep heavy objects on lower shelves to minimize potential for injury and damage. And never hang objects above or in close proximity to cribs or beds. That way, if you can’t get to your kids’ rooms, at least you know that they are safe in their beds.

How can we get our young children prepared for an earthquake without completely freaking them out?
Kids do drills in school all the time. I encourage parents to do evacuation and earthquake drills at home, too. It’s an easy way to get the family thinking about preparedness together. Here is one online resource that can help families create at-home drills.

Are there any other tips, specific to parents, that you think are often overlooked?
Parents of little ones need to be making plans with their nannies and talking to their kids’ schools about their emergency plans. You should talk about the frequency of drills at school, know their evacuation locations, and be familiar with their plans for communicating with parents. If your kids’ school doesn’t have that information available, encourage them to seek out resources and guidance from their district offices and the city or county emergency management offices.

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Many of us are still operating under outdated protocols. After speaking with Devra, Yasmine and Soraya started to take her advice, walking room to room and taking a few minutes to decide what the safest spot would be in each. They have designated out-of-state contacts and made sure the number is in everyone’s cell phones, including caregivers. Next up are monthly drills and a family walk to a safe meeting spot. With each new bit of preparedness, their fears begin to diminish. Start today, one step at a time. Taking advantage of one of Devra’s workshops is the perfect first step.

With seven children ranging in age from one to seventeen years between them, sisters and bloggers Yasmine Delawari Johnson and Soraya Delawari Dancsecs are experts at parenting in L.A. They take a break from PTA board meetings, cooking, and producing films to blog at CityThink each Thursday.