Let’s practice “Drop, Cover and Hold On!” How do you respond in an emergency?

I know I’m speaking primarily of my experiences with earthquakes and it’s possible you just aren’t all that interested. You have your own natural events to consider. But that’s really the point. I can only speak about earthquakes. I’m altogether relieved I haven’t experienced tornadoes, hurricanes, monsoons, typhoons…I only know earthquakes. But the consideration I’m giving to shaky ground might be relevant to you, too. How is your personal disaster preparedness? It’s worth thinking about.

It’s been a little over a year since the devastating earthquake and tsunami slammed Japan. If you live near any coast you might see reminders.

It was reported today that The National Oceanic and Atmospheric  Association (NOAA) has given the state of Washington $50,000 just to help pay  for trash bags and bins for the tsunami debris that is hitting the coast. A  66-foot long steel and concrete dock that washed from Japan arrived on the Oregon coast, bringing with it at least 30 species of sea creatures not native to the U.S. coast. It’s difficult to yet know the implications for the fragile coastal marine system. And it must be very disconcerting just to see it!

 This marker is in the same city where my daughter and family live. Do you think I notice it?

And we are now made aware that the California coast is next. The warnings have been broadcast to stay clear of any floating debris. There is concern about toxic materials–fuel canisters, vehicles, industrial chemical containers and other hazardous materials are anticipated.

Tsunami warning signs are feverishly posted all over the coastline. This one was on the beach where we vacation.

It’s sobering to think about an 9.0 magnitude earthquake like the one that occurred in Japan, March 11, 2011. But reflecting on the potential for such a disaster doesn’t necessarily translate into being fearful. It does motivate me to frequently consider what we would do if we are home when a BIG ONE hits. What if we are at work and separated? On the freeway? It’s worth thinking about, as each location needs a little different plan.

I am usually fairly competent in an emergency. I’ve been in charge of enough events, many involving young children, and I’ve had to create earthquake provisions and publish plans for schools and families according to state requirements. In smaller emergency events I usually don’t panic if I’m responsible for other people. But I’m not immune to the strange behaviors that hit when adrenaline pumps too quickly!

A couple of years ago a mild earthquake hit during work hours.  The tremor set our little bungalow to creaking and groaning and we later laughed at the picture of  three of us, Native Californians, bouncing around in slightly frenetic and unfocused activity while the lone New Yorker stayed calm, cool and followed the best practice methods–“Drop, Cover, Hold On.” I may need to practice my response!

While we all continue to watch Isaac hovering over New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast on this 7th anniversary of Katrina, it is sobering to look back while also wondering if the $1.1-billion surge barrier, 26 feet high and 1.8 miles long, will be enough. Pumps have been upgraded since Katrina and evacuation and emergency management plans have been fine-tuned. Lessons were learned and we all hope for the best of possible outcomes. What is the major difference between Katrina and Isaac? Preparation!

In my next post I’ll share Fetterly experiences in the Whittier earthquake.  Fortunately I have some funny moments mixed in with the chaos. When I can promise to insert humor you know the scope and scale didn’t qualify the event as a personal disaster, although there were fatalities resulting from the tremor. But on a personal level there was just enough damage and  jolt to teach several lessons that continue to reverberate.

So as someone who promotes well-being, I think I need to end on a much lighter note, don’t you? If possible, take a look at this little clip from October 1, 1987–fast forward through commercials to 1:30.

In the clip Los Angeles news anchors dive under the news desk as an after shock hits, while the camera person just continues to stand still and film the whole event. To this day they are teased for their reaction. With all those lights and booms over their heads? I’d have crawled out and run home!

That’s not a swarm of bees…Better update YOUR emergency supplies!

English: Bull's eye graphic for use with earth...
English: Bull’s eye graphic for use with earthquake location maps (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sitting at my work station today alert signals were sounding off on my phone, iPad and computer as both national and local news apps tracked Tropical Storm Isaac. We may be clear across the country, but we are still very concerned. One CNN alert posted, “New Orleans and much of the Gulf Coast faced the anniversary of devastating Hurricane Katrina by hunkering down for new storm amid ‘a high level of anxiety,’ as the Crescent City’s mayor put it Monday.”

Yep! I’d be more than a little anxious, too! We were in Florida several years ago with a hurricane on its way and I felt anxious just watching the local community boarding up glass storefronts while observing hotel personnel shift activity into high gear with well-practiced emergency preparation. I can’t be sure how I’d adjust in a situation where I knew a disaster might be in the making.

I’ve always said that although earthquakes certainly frighten me, we can’t anticipate the ground moving, so the fear factor is at least diminished. It’s difficult to fear what is more random than predictable. That is, unless you’re currently living in the Imperial Valley. More than 400 earthquakes, termed an earthquake swarm, have struck over the last two days at approximately the same epicenter, near Brawley, California. The largest quake yesterday afternoon, magnitude 5.5, hit the farming town with a decent wallop.

I looked it up. Brawley is 192 miles from my home in San Gabriel. I haven’t felt any movement, but just listening to all the talk has me a little jumpy.  Like most native Californians, I know just enough to get myself in a lather if I choose to think about the “what ifs.”

I know a fair share of information about tectonic plates. I can reasonably discuss strike-slips, thrust faults and subduction. I know how to read data from the Southern California Seismic Network, and if from around here we ALL know Kate Hutton, nicknamed “Earthquake Kate,” from Pasadena’s Cal-Tech Seismological Laboratory. Kate, along with her colleague Dr. Lucy Jones of the US Geological Survey, are the public faces every Southern California resident needs to know when looking to understand a current quake event or question fact from myth.

If I think about earthquakes with any level of concentration I can easily work into major anxiety. But like most people who live in earthquake areas, we also live in a bit of denial.  Earthquakes are certainly not confined to California, and in response to the Coney Island earthquake of 1884, the New York Times published an article which described behaviors that remind me  of the time our large family  gathered around the table at an Easter dinner when an earthquake hit. We barely missed a beat as the room rocked and chandelier circled our heads.

“Almost before you have had time to feel surprised at the suddenness of the interruption (for the earth never stops to apologize) it is all over; and you pick up the teapot with a smile, continuing the conversation with the greatest attainable politeness, as if nothing at all unusual had happened meanwhile.”

So typical. And so true–unless it’s not a small temblor! Sometimes the jolt is fierce enough to do some serious damage. And we have had those, too. I still get a little queasy if I think about our experiences with the October 1, 1987 Whittier Narrows earthquake–we did have damage!

Seismologists have indicated the frequency of these current spasms doesn’t in any way indicate a likelihood for something bigger yet to come. These same earthquake swarms shook this region in the 1930s and the late 1970s, but the swarm will likely last for days, possibly weeks.

Since it’s very hard for me to tune out a “swarm” of anything, it seems prudent to be more productive rather than fearful.

We are putting a little boost of energy into updating our home earthquake preparation and supplies.

Even Kidspace Children’s Museum has earthquake preparation information for children and families.

It’s time to add a few more items to the measly canned good collection. Many of the other necessary items have been pulled out of stock for use and not replaced. I’m not like the Simpsons’ character Ned , believing insurance to be a form of gambling–my well-being rests better at night with a little forethought, planning and preparation.

So as we work on gathering our earthquake supplies I’ll be sharing some stories from our southland experiences. Since we were ultimately safe in the 1987 quake, although there was damage to the home and it was indeed very frightening, there are also some funny stories I will share. Family lore can be created around the strangest experiences!

Meanwhile, all good thoughts are being much more strategically directed to the people in the path of Isaac. Call it a tropical storm, fine, but any storm that is a hurricane in the making is a serious weather event. I hope it doesn’t gain much strength, but even a Category One hurricane is no small wonder if you’re the one sitting in its path.

So tonight I’m paying attention, on a little alert, but breathing lighter. We have a plan!


A perfect weekend. Celebrating the ordinary.

I took a little break from my usual routines to enjoy a documentary I’ve been saving.  Life in a Day (2011) focuses on a single day, July 24, 2010, and includes scenes selected from 4,500 hours of footage in 80,000 YouTube video clips from 192 countries.

The story behind the film is fascinating. Originally created as a partnership between YouTube, Ridley Scott Associates and LG electronics, the project was outsourced, tasking people around the world to film their response to the questions, What do you love? What do you fear? and What’s in your pocket?  The preponderance of clips were obtained from people contacted through YouTube and more traditional television and news sources, but at least  25% came from cameras provided to people in the developing world.

I found the documentary totally absorbing. My eyes never left the screen.  Visual effects paired with an excellent score provides mesmerizing cohesiveness although there isn’t a traditional storyline . The clips are artfully pieced together in a seamless montage of scenes, some with dialogue, some wordless, moving through brief episodes depicting sadness, joy, inspiration–poignant by both similarities and differences in people around the globe.

In some ways fear and love are expressed similarly, but to the question what’s in your pocket? the differences are vast, as is artfully punctuated in a scene between a gentleman tossing the keys to his luxury car followed by that of a man in Haiti with empty pockets. Although the movie moved me along with a variety of emotional responses, what I’ve been thinking about is how most of the submissions represented small moments in one ordinary day.

Watching hundreds of small moments in this compact 90-minute film highlighted aspects of our human nature employed to shore up personal vulnerability, and in some instances of life and death, the complex measures that people use to cope, hold onto hope, and move forward.

Most of our days are full of thousands of small movements. Ordinary days. Routine, for the most part. I don’t think I stop often enough to be truly grateful for just that…an ordinary day.

I’m looking forward to a very ordinary weekend. It will be satisfying to get through a week’s worth of mail piled high on the kitchen table, mostly unopened. Laundry is a necessity. And how two people who are never home can so greatly upset order in one house I don’t know.

So I will do the most ordinary of household chores and establish some kind of restored order before a new week begins. I’m looking forward to it!

And I’ll also need to put some mental energy into solving the question of what to do with a growing tortoise  we are currently calling Destructo. Darwin (Destructo) has been climbing on the backyard train tracks again and has uprooted some of my succulents in the process. He’s digging in other parts of the yard, too, paddling in the dirt and eating small pieces of the gravel lining the path to his home. He knocked over one of my ceramic pots, breaking the pot and spilling its contents, and he has taken to chewing down some of the other succulents around the yard.

Do we need to build a corral?

I also need to spend time this weekend analyzing what has gone wrong in my vegetable garden. At the moment I think I have a few of the world’s most expensive tomatoes. As much time, money and attention as I’ve devoted, the yield should be MUCH greater. I always have a good tomato crop…but not this year. And what’s up with the tomatillos?

All flower and no fruit? I have seen bees…another mystery.

Ordinary, every day issues. If these are the biggest obstacles of the moment I’m altogether fortunate. I will happily accept an ordinary weekend and move about it with enjoyment.

I hope you have an equally enjoyable weekend with your  own version of ordinary. Do consider seeing Life in a Day. It’s in DVD–I streamed it from Netflix, if you have that service. Click HERE for a very nice YouTube trailer.  It makes me want to see it again.

So are we ready for one giant exhale? Yes!

Enjoy, Debra