How Much Would You Spend to Prepare for the Potentially Inevitable?

The view from where I live, which I am assuming means I won’t have to worry about the tsunami.

One of the newer action items on my Getting Things Done list is “do earthquake prep.”

This is, of course, because of The Really Big One—both the Cascadia subduction zone earthquake and The New Yorker article of the same name, the one with aftershocks that are still being felt months after its publication this past July, in part because The New Yorker recently announced to its readers that “The Really Big One” was its most popular article of the year.

They even went so far as to say New Yorker readers spent “3.6 billion seconds, or roughly a hundred and fifteen years” reading the article. If that were in real time, the Cascadia earthquake would likely have come and gone; as Kathryn Schulz explained:

Thanks to work done by [paleoseismologist Chris Goldfinger] and his colleagues, we now know that the odds of the big Cascadia earthquake happening in the next fifty years are roughly one in three. The odds of the very big one are roughly one in ten.

I added “do earthquake prep” to my Getting Things Done list a few days after The New Yorker happily reminded me that the Cascadia earthquake wasn’t going anywhere—not, at least, until it did go somewhere, which was the problem—and provided me with a link to read the entire article again.

I didn’t create the action item just because I re-read “The Really Big One,” though. I added it to my list because, two days after The New Yorker told us which article its readers spent 115 years reading, there was a 4.7 earthquake in Vancouver, BC. To quote the CBC:

B.C.’s South Coast was hit by an earthquake that shook many people from their sleep just before midnight, in what one seismologist called the largest quake in the region in years.

This means “do earthquake prep” has been on my GTD list for about two weeks and I have taken zero action on it. To be fair, it’s not a very good action item, especially if you know how the Getting Things Done system works. An ideal action item is a single task with a clear beginning and ending; in this case, “look up recommended earthquake prep supplies” would have been the stronger choice.

Except I’ve already done that, and I know the list; Kathryn Schulz wrote a follow-up to “The Really Big One” called “How to Stay Safe When the Big One Comes,” outlining everything that a Cascadia resident should put in an earthquake kit.

I haven’t taken any action on that list either.

Part of it is because some of the items are time-consuming; “copies of important documents (birth certificates, passports, driver’s licenses, wills)” means a trip to the FedEx Office, which in itself isn’t that arduous but is the sort of thing that everyone wants to put off until tomorrow.

The other part is that “do earthquake prep” is expensive. I need, at minimum:

  • A flashlight that is not on my phone
  • A radio
  • Batteries for said flashlight and radio (unless the radio is hand-cranked)
  • An extra set of glasses (I could probably get away with using my old prescription, since I’ve still got that pair)
  • A first-aid kit
  • Warm, comfortable clothing (assumedly in layers, because The Really Big One could hit at any time of the year)
  • A pair of sturdy shoes (as with clothing, these can’t be shoes that I regularly wear; they have to be special shoes that I buy just to shove into an earthquake kit)
  • Camping supplies (rain gear, sleeping bag, tent, etc.)
  • Water purifying supplies
  • At least three days’ worth of food and water, although three weeks’ worth would be better

I’d probably also want other useful tools that usually live on my phone, like a map and a compass—and because, in the event of earthquake, I am absolutely going to grab the five-inch supercomputer that never leaves my side and tuck it carefully into the space between my knees and chest as I wrap my arms around my head and duck for cover, I’m also going to want a solar-powered USB charger.

I could do the math on how much all of this would cost me, except just doing a little of the math is enough; a two-person tent will run about $50, a new pair of sturdy shoes will be another $50 (don’t ask me why I don’t just use my old shoes, the answer is “I wear them until there are holes in the soles”), an Augason Farms 30 Day Food Emergency Disaster Bucket, 1 Person costs $101.67.

I’d drop $500 on “do earthquake prep,” easily.

The question is: should I?

I was put in mind of all of this because Andrew Golis’s just featured a Chicago Magazine article about disaster preppers, which in turn reminded me that a disaster might be coming my way, and I should at least consider preparing for it.

What would you do? Would you buy the Disaster Bucket and five gallons of water and a water purifier and all of the clothing and supplies you might need? I don’t even know where I’d put all of this if I got it; I’ve gone weekend camping before, and everything we brought—the two-person tent, the sleeping bags, the flashlights—ended up filling the trunk of a car.

Or would you do what I think I might do: put a gallon of water, a water filter, a handful of Clif Bars, a first-aid kit, and a flashlight into a bag. If I can navigate my apartment well enough, after The Really Big One, to reach the bag, I’ll also be able to reach my shoes and my coat and my purse that’ll already have my drivers license and my USB charger in it. (My apartment just isn’t that big.)

If my apartment or I are in a condition where I can’t get to the bag, then it won’t matter how many supplies I have.

I should mention, by the way, that I’ve been in this type of situation before. During one of my summers home from college, a tornado hit my hometown. It wasn’t a Really Big disaster, but it was the kind of experience where you crawl out of your tornado shelter afterwards and spend the next week working with your neighbors and the Red Cross to make sure everyone is safe and has enough food.

When we saw the clouds, knew that this wasn’t like the other tornado warnings, and began walking through the house towards the tornado shelter, I picked up any supplies that made sense to take with us—I remember bringing in a box of Band-Aids, which we actually ended up using, and a bag of bagels, which we didn’t. You want me in a disaster, because I’m levelheaded.

But this also means I’m the kind of person who will assume that I don’t need to do real earthquake prep; that I can make it through with my wits and a few Clif Bars.

So—what would you do if you were me?

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