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Dr. Preparedness, Or, 'How I learned to love an earthquake'

In the mid- to late 1960s the Civil Defense film “Duck and Cover” (1951) was still being shown in my grade school.

With the combination of being prepared for nuclear war by the social guidance films of the era and with extra study guides in my fifth grade classroom on building a bomb shelter and surviving the fallout after the bomb, I was one ready kid.

This is probably the main reason I’ve always tried to be ready in emergency situations and why this series is important to me.

When the Northridge Earthquake hit in 1994, I was living in Santa Monica. The city was hard hit, losing more than 2,000 housing units.

The night before I had picked up two of my 6-year-old daughter’s friends for her very first sleepover.

As I was leaving, I said something off-the-cuff to the parents of the girls: “If there is a big earthquake, why don’t we have the policy that whoever has the girls stays where they are and the one who doesn’t have the girls comes and gets their child?”

At 4:30 the next morning those words were a comfort.

Every phone number dialed resulted in a busy signal – even cell phones – and the electricity was out for 12 hours.

But the parents of the girls knew exactly what to do because we had talked about it.

For the two hours it took them to travel the 10 miles to my house they said they felt reassured because they weren’t worried that I was traveling in the other direction to bring the kids to them.

Portions of the I-10 had collapsed; power lines were down, causing detours blocks long; signal lights were out and people were driving like crazy, but the girls’ parents stayed calm because we had a plan.

So the theme this week is not just having a plan but having a plan in writing. Because when an emergency strikes, clear thinking goes right out the window.

A written plan covers both staying-in-place survival and also evacuation survival.

How much easier would it be when you get notified you have 20 minutes to clear out of your house to have a checklist of what you would take and where it is located?

What would you take if it was a fire and you might lose your house? Take Grandmother’s fine china and leave work clothes?

What would you take if it was a hazardous materials spill and you knew at some point you could come back? Leave Grandmother’s fine china and take work clothes?

I don’t like to reinvent the wheel, so the other day while driving in the county to our south I noticed a billboard with a Web site,

There was everything I was trying to put together for this column from other sources right in front of me.

This is a great document to download and print.

From making sure everyone in the family knows where to meet up after an emergency if you can’t get to home, to out-of-area contact names and numbers, the list is right there to print out.

There are checklists on making a home safer in all sorts of disasters, emergency supplies and tools and how to prepare.

Once the information is printed out, set aside two hours this week as a family and go over the sheet.

If your children were home alone and you couldn’t get to them, would they know where to go? If they are old enough to stay in place until you got home, would they know where the main water valve or gas valves were and how and when to turn them off?

That is why, as a family, this plan should be gone over and filled out and placed in the emergency supply area of the home.

Then, the extra credit homework this week is to make a list of everything you would want to take if you knew your house would be destroyed.

List photo albums, important papers, computer hard drives, Great-Grandmother’s quilts – all the things that could not be replaced and where they are located. Keep this list with the supplies, too.

Not all of my emergency planning has been perfect. I went a little overboard for Y2K and still have a gallon can of artificially flavored chocolate pudding I have to throw out. But I didn’t have to buy toilet paper for a year.

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