April 20, 2011

You’re not going anywhere.

Most disasters will not require you to get out of town, as romantic as the notion may be. In fact, in the bay area, most disasters will completely strand you as bridges, tunnels and overpasses are shut down for inspections or reconstruction. Not only will this keep you in, it will keep essential services out. In the event of a major quake, you can expect to be on your own for three days to six months depending on the severity of the incident. Truth be told, the following advice will help you even if the tremors you experience are a layoff, an earthquake or the proverbial zombie apocalypse. This is what you need.


Water is easy. You turn the tap on, and out it flows. But the terrible truth is that those water lines run underground, often only a few inches away from the sludge that flows out your toilets. With any major flooding or infrastructure damage, your tap water will be rendered unsafe.

You need 1 gallon a day for cooking and drinking, but a safer estimate is three gallons a day if you want to do important things like washing dishes or your stinky ass. You already have 30-50 gallons of water stored in your hot water heater. As soon as a major trembler hits, pour yourself a nice steaming bath. If your water lines are contaminated, this water will not be clean, but it will be cleaner than what you get later. This comes out to ten days of water. You may need to treat it, but at least it is there. Likewise, the tank behind your toilet holds a days worth of water, and if you refrain from flushing, it should be clean.

If you’re freezer is largely empty, throw a few bottles of water in there. Two liter soda bottle are best, since they don’t break easily. Gallon milk jugs work as well, but require and incredible amount of cleaning; I thawed a few gallons from my mom’s freezer and they reeked of spoilt milk, and I wouldn’t wash in that crap, let alone drink it. Frozen bottles have the advantage of serving as thermal mass and will slow the thawing process of any food you have in your freezer.

The blog in the side bar details treatment options, but for the average SF apartment, your best bet is a gallon of bleach. 1 TBS of bleach to each gallon of water will probably kill any nasties, though if you experience an extended loss of services, you will need to boil your water as well. If you have the spare cash, a pump filter will allow you to drink the rainbow water on sixth street without becoming a pigeon.


Living in the city, I always had my slow day stash of food; a buffer that allowed me to stay fed if I lost my job and was forced to choose between eating and paying rent. You’ll want 1000-2000 calories a day, but you can make it on less. My stash was 10 lbs of pasta, 5lbs of rice and 5lbs of dried black beans alongside my favorite canned food. Since then, I have discovered Quinoa and Polenta, both dried food that offer great nutritional benefits and which are pretty cheap in bulk at wholefoods. (Quinoa is a complete protein in grain form) The 20lbs of food above can be had for less than a Franklen if you find them on sale or hit Grocery Outlet in the east bay. My canned foods usually included a bunch of veggies (even though I hate canned veggies) thanks to the vitamin content. Canned meats can be intolerable, but tuna, chicken and Vienna sausages are great in recipes. Canned tomatoes are essential for the pasta and rice.

The 20 lbs of dried food and canned stuff for sauces and tastiness was enough to last two weeks without eating out, and if I really pushed my bachelor’s selection of condiments, might even taste good. Thank god for Siracha and Tapatio. If you frequently cook at home, you can easily adapt your existing pantry to serve as emergency rations.


You gas mains are going to break if a cat farts on a fault line. This means your gas range is not going to work. Anybody who has lived in the city for any length of time remembers the rolling blackouts, so if you have an electric range you don’t even need to wait on feline flatulence to suffer a Frisco Famine.

I would personally recommend two stoves; a multi-fuel camp stove and a solid fuel stove capable of burning wood or charcoal. Neither are suitable for indoor cooking, but both can be used semi-safely next to an open window.

Multi-fuel stoves can run on white fuel (naptha, camp or coleman fuel) or gasoline. In the event of a major disaster, you will be using gasoline, which is dirty and VERY dangerous to use inside due to the additives that gas contains. It will also leave a sooty residue on the bottom of your cookware, which is made easier to clean by swiping a bar of soap along the bottom of your pots and pans prior to cooking.

Multi fuel stoves can be had on craigslist and ebay for cheap, from $15 to $50 depending on the model. The Coleman Peak One is the usually the cheapest used stove on craigslist. I personally own an MSR Whisperlite (which will also run off kerosene and similar fuels) and a ridiculously oversized two burner Coleman campstove.

A solid fuel stove is easier to build than buy, and can be made out of a coffee can in less than an hour. A very efficient version of the tin can stove is known as the rocket stove and requires a coffee can and a regular old soup can to construct. Awesome instructions can be found with a quick google search. If you aren’t going to build one now, print out the instructions, as your internet will probably go down before your gas lines.

More info on stoves can be found in the sidebar under the “Playing With Petrol” blog, including a stove which can be made with only a few beer cans, and which will run off rubbing alcohol, Bacardi 151 or any sufficiently strong alcohol.


Odds are good that you apartment will be fine, but there have been many a building knocked flat or rendered useless due to the structural stresses of a strong earthquake. A box of trash bags and a roll of duct tape is enough to temporarily cover broken windows, but in the event of a wrecked building, you may find yourself needing some other sort of shelter.

A military poncho makes a functional, light and versatile shelter but, to be honest, for just a few dollars more large camping tents can be had from a number of sporting goods stores for under $40. If your home is unsuitable to remain in, contact a friend to set up in their place or in their backyard. DO NOT stay next to an unstable building.

A sleeping bag is good if you can afford it, but your own bedding will suffice in most situations; particularly if you can crash a nearby friend’s house. Using couch cushions or any other sort of padding (yoga mats are awesome) will keep you off the cold ground, make sleeping easier and keep you warmer. If you have the inclination, a roll up foam mat, or a self-inflating matt such as a Thermarest is easy to carry, packing up to about the same size as a water bottle.


A Flashlight with spare batteries. Seriously, if you lack this, stop reading and go get one now. Better yet, get a few.

A battery or crank powered radio. You can get these at dollar stores and they are very important. When you get one, spend a few minutes to find out what you local NPR stations are. Big stations are often computer controlled, and will not have any good information for hours after a disaster. One September 11th, numerous New York stations continued with regularly scheduled broadcasts for up to 24 hours after the towers fell. Local public radio will tell you the locations of hazards, shelters and resources, often starting seconds after a major event.

A multitool like a leatherman or one of the hundreds on knock-offs is essential. However, after an earthquake a crescent wrench is imperative. A broken gas line can ruin you day, and having a wrench able to shut off your gas line is important.

A prybar of any sort should be kept under a couch or bed. DO NOT KEEP IT IN A CLOSET. After a quake, buildings can lean or sag, making doors impossible to open without a lever. If you find yourself stuck without a bar, remember that doorknob screws are always on the inside, and after pulling out a door knob you might be able to pull open stuck doors.

A cellphone is important, and while it may seem counter intuitive, after a major disaster, you should call one person out of the area and then turn it off. If the circuits are tied up and you are unable to get a call out, text messages will often go out when calls won’t. Turn off your phone once you’ve made contact to let people know you are alright. It may be a while before you can charge it again, and probably not long before you need to call someone.

Heavy shoes are one of the things I would usually forget to mention, as I’m the kind of guy who shines my hunting boots for job interviews. But there will be lots of glass and other hazards lying around after a quake, and flip flops won’t cut it as well as shards of broken windows cut your feet.

Rain Gear can be as simple as holes punched in a trash bag, as cheap as the $5 sets you get from grocery stores, or $150 fishing gear from a company like Dutch Harbor. Do not expect a disaster to happen on a sunny day. Umbrellas are worthless.


There are a lot of things to really consider when preparing for a disaster, and this list has barely touched the surface. For lots of professional input, visit www.ready.gov for information on preparedness kits, emergency resources and advice. No matter what, make a plan, build a kit and keep your head.

I’m heading out the hills for a week tomorrow morning, but will finish the blog about that $50 kit when I return. Stay steady.

1 Comment
  • Rick, May 8, 2013 Reply

    There are a lot of survicalist blogs out there that get into specific details of packs and stuff.

    I like to have a fully stocked pantry at all times. Lots of batteries and flashlights.


    Lots of reading material is important too.

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