Quake Party

Picture eight people gathering in a NE Portland home with piles of survival gear. The grill is hot, and a stack of foil wrapped potatoes sits next to a container of egg salad and a bowl of salad. The background music is eighties hair bands, and folks have brought canned goods and full backpacks.

People eat a combination of fresh food and old canned stuff nearing its best-by date, as its October, and it's time to cycle out the emergency canned foods in the disaster kits as we restock. And since many minds get more ideas, we're doing this as a pot luck event. Or as one friend put it, this is my zombie apocalypse survival team, and we're here to plan for the worst.

Stacy comments about her canned soup – “For me, this posole is comfort food. I keep these around for days where I've done a lot of physical labor and don't have the energy to think up something better. It's hydrating as well as calories.” Which matters in a disaster, but at the time, you won't think of that stuff. The time to be ready is while you are not shaking.

Portland is due, or overdue, for an earthquake – up to a magnitude 9. Fifty years ago, people didn't realize this area got quakes at all, and so the building codes are patchwork, and services are not resilient. The city is working on these, but if it happened next week, we want to survive, we want our family and friends to survive, we want our neighbors and co-workers to survive.

And so we ate the expiring stock and talked about scenarios


Best case: quake doesn't happen for 80 years, and by then 1) the infrastructure has been upgraded & people trained and 2) all of us are already dead. Except young Mo, doing her homework in the basement.

Worst case is an super volcano exploding while the quake happens and we all die. But short of that, there are a bunch of possibilities that we can plan for.

First, Stacy outlined, is that the quake happens in the middle of the night while you are in bed asleep. What do you do?

If you habitually keep shoes and flashlight near the bed, you'll know what to grab to protect your feet from glass and find your way without power. Check the batteries regularly – Paul pointed out that like his software projects, if it hasn't been tested, it should be assumed to not work. Various people took notes on checking batteries. Others noted that cellphones tend to have a flashlight function.

Val added to not have heavy art hung over the bunk – it falling would be a disturbing way to wake up. Scott pointed out he sleeps under 90 year old wavy glass windows. Stacy snarked about life choices, because it's that kinda crowd.

Until the shaking stops, drop, cover and hold on – under or beside bed, under a table. We discussed bookshelves falling on people, as the house hosting this event had a lot of bookshelves, few of them secured to the walls. Modifying that goes onto the house prep list.

Ok, the shaking stops. What next? Get those shoes on, grab the flashlight. Go outside. Survey damage, watch for power lines, don't try to travel far in the dark. With Solarize Portland being popular, the lines that are down may not be dead, even if the power plant is out – solar home batteries may still be pushing power into the system.

Then – shelter in place. Expect that EMS will take 3 days for most basic help – you are on your own, be prepared for it. We've got 2.4million people here, and if 1/2 of them need help, that still will overwhelm any supply. We need to not be part of the problem.

We pulled up the Portland hazards map, and checked out the homes of the people gathered – two houses thoroughly in the green, two yellow, one orange. How long you stay in your house may vary. The two green zoned homes, then, is what our group will invest thought in gathering at, since they are seismically stable & secondary issues like land slides are unlikely.


Back to scenarios : you are at work when the quake hits. Andrew showed off his bug out bag: water in sealed packets, food brick, small med kit, epipen, n95 face mask, work gloves, parachute cord, safety glasses, multi tool, space blanket, rain poncho, etc – all fitting in a ruck sack that lives in his car. This gear isn't too heavy, and can help him if he needs to walk home from his office, which may take a long time, since we don't expect many of the Willamette bridges near his workplace to still be up and passable.

Amanda, who is on the Neighhborhood Emergency Team, showed off what was in her jump bag. Andrew's was geared towards self-survival, Amanda's was more towards helping others. She had a more extensive medkit, (and we had a conversational digression on nitrile gloves, and how many one goes through – experience from Scott & Rita's days of bike patrol), crowbar and a t shaped tool that was made out of a spark-free material for turning off gas as well as prying, breaking, and hooking. Gloves, helmet, markers and tape – used to indicate triage on both people and houses. The teams exist for every neighborhood, and are trained in what to do to assist – when Amanda gets back to her home base and feels safe, she will then start assisting her teammates per their training. We discussed who else is interested in NET training, and what other skills would be useful, like Ham radio, and first aid/CPR.


Next scenario: time to move. You've been home and have decided your house is not safe or sustainable, and want to move to our zombie HQ in the green zone. The various routes and means – foot or bicycle probable, car or motorcycle is less likely. Fallen overpasses and bridges may make the interstates as impassible as the Willamette; live wires, downed trees, crumbled masonry – surface routes may be clear, but not likely. What would you bring? How would you carry it?

Alas, one of the team houses with the best rain barrel setup and things like a solar oven is off in the yellow zone. The designated zombie HQ does not yet have rain barrels, but it's in the works. UIt does, however, have a hot tub, which after the fresh water runs out, is a water source for at least cleaning, or in a pinch, filtering once the bromide evaporates. A gravity fed filter should clear up the rest to make 200 gallons of drinkable water at need. Also, apparently, although powdered pool shock can be added to unfiltered water (then shake and let out gas) to make drinkable- the liquid gallon bleach most people have becomes less affective over time, and shouldn't be trusted after 6 months from opening. The things this group knows amazes me.

Food for long term for the entire crowd is going to be difficult. If it's mid summer, fresh food from the garden will be available, plus whatever is in the cupboard, after the perishables run out. In the house emergency kit is a not-small amount of canned foods, but that takes up a lot of space. We'll likely want to follow Stacy's advice and have the fixings for a lot of soup – Winco deals in various bulk items, and has Mylar to store it in after packaging and vacuuming. Andrew suggests freezing any bulk supplies for 24 hours before repackaging, to kill off any critters who would be happy with being sealed in with a food supply. Stacy tells a story of her first year of assembling a disaster kit in a sealed wheeled plastic trash container, and how vermin had subsequently eaten up or ruined most of those supplies. Everyone started tossing out ideas to make the kits mouse and bug resistant, and noting that the kits should be stored away from the house, in case there is damage there.

Once we have a stock of dried food available to us, how will we heat it? Keeping a spare propane tank in rotation for the gas grill at zombie HQ should give us some on-hand heat source, but that's not going to last as long as we want it too. Scott has Nissan crockpot that takes no power after the initial boiling and can make a gallon of soups at a time. There's a solar oven. Certain camp stoves and which will run on gasoline if there is nothing else, and we took an inventory of what people had – we live in a camp-friendly state, and everyone had some equipment.

Sanitation is a squishy topic, we pun. Zombie HQ is on a slope, so we joke about it rolling down hill, but really, an awful lot of people are going to suddenly learn what life was like before sewer systems. The idea of digging an outhouse out back works in the countryside, but here, we'll need a bucket system, and a means to dispose of the waste so as to avoid dying, as it were, if dystentary. The Oregon trail gets revenge!

The green-zone homes need to be equipped to shelter the team, and so, scenarios are trotted out on what could go wrong, and how to solve issues. Windows may break, so the kits need means of covering, like a roll of visqueen, which continues to let light in & keep the winter rains out. We wrote off the fireplace, which seems like a good source of heat, but may no longer be sound – indeed, may topple and cause roof damage. So having a big strong tarp and a way to secure it over the roof tree may be smart. Blankets and sweaters, since Portland is rarely life threateningly cold, should keep us warm. Also having friends near for body heat. And entertainment – people to talk to, as well as that extensive library.

The big house-issue possibilities, however, are fire and falling. A pipe wrench needs to be handy to turn off the gas (only at need), and extinguishers available – if the neighborhood starts burning, there won't be water pressure or fire trucks to stop it. Luckily, building codes make the San Fransisco result unlikely, even in the neighborhoods of 100% wood frame construction. The building codes for older homes, however, didn't take quakes into the equation, and thus many wood buildings are only using gravity to rest on their foundations. Aftermarket bolts go on the list for zombie HQ retrofit- luckily, it's basement walls are mostly accessible. Paul notes that there's an era of Portland cement mixing where the ingredient ratio was off (and the sand component was dredged river bottom), and the concrete seems to be held together by habit – his basement, for instance, can be dug through with a plastic spoon. Zombie HQ is solid- has to be, to hold up the weight of the books.


Speaking of books, Scott suggested a homework assignment of Lucifer Hammer by Niven – which imagines a global disaster event. Not to scare people too much, as our potential quake is definitely regional, but does get one in the mindset, and show how others may react. Luckily, we can be pretty sure the rest of the nation will be shipping in food and medical supplies, but it's unknown where epicenter is – could affect Portland, Seattle, Salem, not to mention all the small communities on the coast.

The homework-doing teen came upstairs, and her dad explained what we'd been discussing, and posed questions about what she'd do if quake happened while she was at school. could she walk home? What route? When? Since she didn't know, we recommended she ask the school admins their plans, then discuss them with her folks to see how school plan would dovetail or deviate from the family plan.

From this group's plan, we hope to expand out to a larger group, or seed off other zombie HQ groups of friends and neighbors, until everyone in the city has a plan, supplies, and training.

Next time we do this gathering, next year, folks will have assembled bug out kits, done some research, and started thinking routes. Many of the home retrofit items will be checked off. Then we'll figure out the next pieces of preparedness. As we told the teen, it's an event you should have given some thought and prep to, but without it taking over your life.


Links & ideas:

Bug out bag

Jump bag – medical gear & equipment NET trains in, for helping others.

Disaster kit – food, water, medical supplies, tarps & rope, etc – assume 3 days with no support, and after that, limited resources.

Home retrofit – have a way to shut off gas & stop a fire while its small. Secure things that could fall. Make sure you are attached to your foundation. How to hold drinking water. Sanitation plans? Know what your limits are, and when it's time to bail, and what to bring with you when you go to a shelter or zombie HQ.

Training: first aid/CPR, basic home repair, ham radio, water purification techniques



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