Pets and Earthquakes

Pets and earthquakes. After a major earthquake or other natural disaster, many relief shelters will not allow your pets to accompany you.  If you are like my family and me, our dog and cat are very much a part of our family and it’s unthinkable we would leave them behind unattended. So what can you do?

A good place to start is the City of Los Angeles Emergency Management Department flyer on preparedness for pets and service animals available on our Disaster Resources page.

Another good thing to do will be to get a free Rescue Alert sticker from the ASPCA which lets first responders know that pets are inside your home in the event no one is there when a disaster strikes.

If you haven’t microchipped your pets, you may want to consider that. Even if your pet wears a collar and identifying tag, a microchip will make it much easier to reunite with your pet if they wander away and their collar somehow comes off.

Be sure to have your pets are up-to-date on their vaccinations and that their tags reflect this. Those relief shelters that do accept pets may not if you can’t prove your pets are current with their shots.

If you plan on leaving the area and staying at a motel/hotel, check out for a list of lodgings that are pet friendly.

If you do plan to stay at a shelter or in your home, but for some reason it is not possible or practical to keep your pets with you, make sure you have identified an out-of-town friend or family member who will board your furry family members until you can take them back.

Last, but certainly not least, make an Emergency Pet Pack that includes the following: leash and/or pet carrier, water bowl, food bowl, food and water for 7 days, zip lock bag with medications, copies of vaccination and medical records, and photo of your pet. You can store everything but the pet carrier in an easy to carry 5 gallon plastic paint pail with lid available at most hardware and DIY stores. Of course, if you have a pet carrier, you can simply store everything in that.

Hopefully, with a little advanced preparation, you can minimize the stress of dealing with pets and earthquakes.

California ShakeOut Simulation

This past Saturday, Team Survivault™ had a fantastic experience participating in a California ShakeOut earthquake response drill. We donned our CERT gear and went through a San Fernando Valley neighborhood on a Search & Rescue mission to perform post-earthquake damage assessment, identify persons and animals in need of medical attention, provide basic first aid, and transport the injured to an emergency triage and medical tent set up in a nearby park.

CERT disaster response volunteers perform Search & Rescue during a Great California Shake Out disaster simulation.

CERT disaster response volunteers perform Search & Rescue during a Great California Shake Out disaster simulation.

About 50 adults and children volunteered their morning to be our “victims”. Their wounds looked completely realistic thanks to several professional make-up artists who donated their time and expertise – creating everything from simple abrasions and deep gashes, to some nasty head wounds and a stomach-churning compound fracture. It was an incredibly realistic simulation.

This make-up artist turned a generous volunteer into a victim needing serious medical attention!

This make-up artist turned a generous volunteer into a victim needing serious medical attention!

This compound fracture looks pretty realistic.

This compound fracture looks pretty realistic.


Once we had delivered the wounded to the medical tents, other volunteers with first aid training tended to the victims until the professional fire and first responders showed up. They then loaded the most seriously “injured” into real ambulances and off to area hospitals. They even brought in an LAFD helicopter to air-evac a patient.


The purpose of the California ShakeOut exercise was to provide realistic training for first responders, hospital staff and CERT personnel, and test disaster response systems and procedures for effectiveness. Whether you were a “victim” or responder, this California Shakeout drill was an incredibly valuable simulation and we encourage you to participate in one if you get the chance.

Tales From An Earthquake Veteran

Many of you have never experienced a major earthquake and I thought it might be a good idea to share a few of my earthquake stories. I experienced my first earthquake when I was about 6 years old while eating pancakes at Ky’s Place in Carson City, Nevada. As I remember it, the table started shaking a bit at first and I didn’t understand what was happening. I could see ripples in my water glass, which graduated to little waves sloshing over the rim as the intensity picked up. Silverware was rattling all over the diner. It lasted for maybe 10-15 seconds and felt kind of like those Magic Fingers beds that vibrated when you put 50 cents in them you’d find in those old time motels. That earthquake was about a 5.5 on the Richter Scale. I actually thought it was fun and when my mom told me it was an earthquake, I couldn’t wait for my next one!

I got my wish a few years later in 1971 with the Sylmar earthquake, which measured 6.6 – about 30 times more powerful than the one I experienced in Carson City. This one struck around 7am and lasted 12 seconds. I remember awakening to my bed shaking pretty violently. In my youth-addled groggy state, I thought a burglar was under my bed shaking it. My mom and sisters yelled out to me from their bedrooms to get under a doorway (that was the conventional wisdom at the time). By the time I got to it, the quake had stopped. We experienced a lot of broken plates and glass and some cracks in the ceiling, but thankfully not much else.

However, one of my sisters did experience some emotional damage. She was completely freaked out by the experience and became hysterical, alternating between crying and talking a mile a minute about completely random and unrelated things. Finally, my mom gave her a good slap to try and break the cycle and bring her back to reality. It was a scene right out of Airplane!

The next big one for me was our last decent sized earthquake in L.A. – the 6.7 Northridge quake in 1994. By then, I was living in a beautiful 1922 craftsman home in the West Adams section of Los Angeles, about 26 miles from the epicenter. It hit at 4:33am and lasted around 15-20 seconds, but I have to tell you it seemed like an eternity. You have no idea how long 20 seconds can be or how so much can happen in such a short time.

It started slowly, with a rumble and vibrating. In retrospect, that probably lasted 5-7 seconds. I was wide awake at this point and knew what was going on. The first thought that popped into my head was, “How big is this going to get? Is this the BIG ONE?” I waited in bed another 2-3 seconds to try and gauge if it would end, continue at this level or get more intense. I could actually feel it growing stronger, and when patches of plaster from my wall and ceiling fell on my head, I figured it was time to take cover. Just as I got out of bed to crawl under a table, a BIG jolt hit that literally threw me into the doorway next to the table (it wasn’t until an hour or two later I realized how seriously bruised my shoulder was). Maybe I imagined it, but I remember hearing a BOOM in conjunction with that jolt. A few more seconds of this and then it was over. A very eerie silence followed. But what was I expecting? It was 4:30 in the morning and pitch black outside.

I put on my shoes and went to check on my sister and brother-in-law, with whom I was living at the time. Thankfully, we had lots of flashlights with fresh batteries. Everyone was fine. As James Bond might have characterized us, we were “Shaken, not stirred.” The house, however, took a beating. Tons of broken glass, dishes, etc. Books, bookcases, furniture tossed about.

We went next door to check on our 94-year old neighbor to see how she was doing. What I saw broke my heart. She was huddled in the darkness, shaking, alone and scared to death. We stayed with her until she was calm and reassured that things would be ok.

When it started getting light about an hour and a half later, we ventured outside and saw widespread damage. Probably 3 out of 4 houses on the street had lost their chimneys, ours included. Several cars had been crushed by falling debris. Porches had collapsed. A couple of houses listed to one side, as they had clearly slid off their foundations.

The rest of the day was punctuated by aftershocks. Lots of aftershocks. Did you know in some instances an aftershock can actually be larger than what we think of as the main quake? Thankfully it didn’t happen in this case.

Why do I share my earthquake stories? Because there are undoubtedly literally millions of people in California area who have never experienced a serious earthquake and don’t know what to expect. Sometime between right now and the next 20-30 years, that’s likely going to change in very big way. The USGS puts the probability of a 6.7+ magnitude earthquake in Southern California within the next 25 years at 67%.  Most likely, it will occur along the southern section of the San Andreas fault. Historical data show that the average time between earthquakes in the southern end of the San Andreas fault is 150 to 200 years. The last earthquake along the southern section of the San Andreas was back in 1680, over 330 years ago. That puts us more than 150 years overdue.

Before you pack your bags, sell the house or tear up your rental agreement and move out of state, there are things you can do to both protect yourself during an earthquake and cope with its aftermath. A good place to start is the Disaster Resources page on this website. But if you’re too lazy to do that, just remember to do a few things:

Drop. Cover. Hold On.

  • DROP to the ground (before the earthquake drops you!)
  • Take COVER by getting under a sturdy desk or table
  • HOLD ON to it until the shaking stops.

If there isn’t a table or desk near you, drop to the ground in an inside corner of the building and cover your head and neck with your hands and arms. Do not try to run to another room just to get under a table.

  • Securely store water. Lots of water. 7 gallons minimum per person in your household.
  • Beside every bed, put a pair of hard sole shoes and a flashlight w/ fresh batteries taped to the outside

There’s much more you can do, but those things are a start. With a little effort and preparation, we can all get through whatever Mother Nature throws our way. And then you’ll have your own earthquake stories to tell.

California Levees Threaten Entire State in Quake

A major earthquake in the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta area poses an existential threat to the long term viability of the entire state of California. How? One word: levees.

The USGS pegs the likelihood of a significant earthquake (6.7+ magnitude) striking Northern California within the next 25 years at over 63%.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says the flood risk in Sacramento is greater than that of pre-Katrina New Orleans. The majority of California levees are outdated and in poor repair despite $300 million in recent renovations. Many were built by farmers and settlers 150 years ago on a questionable soil base without the benefit of modern engineering. Most of the levees are not concrete lined and are prone to erosion at their base and will likely turn to jelly and crumble should a significant earthquake hit nearby. Water flowing through these levees provides 80% of the drinking water for Southern California. According to the USGS, should the levees fail, salt water would be sucked from the San Francisco bay into the delta on a massive scale in what scientists have dubbed the Big Gulp, contaminating drinking supplies for 25 million people, destroying some of the nation’s most productive farmland, washing away buildings, highways, gas lines and railroads and causing landslides. California, with the eighth-largest economy in the world, would be economically crippled for years, and in turn would hobble the nation and disrupt global trade.

USGS Seismologist and Seismic Risk Advisor to the City of Los Angeles Dr. Lucy Jones predicts that a 7.0+ earthquake along the southern section of the San Andreas fault will likely rupture the three aqueduct pipelines that transport 80% of Southern California’s water supply from the north, leaving So Cal with only 20% of it’s typical water supply. It will take 18 months to repair the aqueducts. Locally in L.A., water pipelines are ancient, outdated and will likely suffer significant damage in a major quake, further impairing the ability to provide fresh, potable water to residents.

In both scenarios – an earthquake ruptures the Sacramento/San Joaquin levee system or damages the aqueducts carrying water to Southern California, it is quite possible that what happened in New Orleans after Katrina will happen in California – people will move from the state and never return, taking with them vital human and intellectual resources.

A major 6.7+ earthquake in California is a undisputed certainty within the next 25 years. Our federal and state legislators must allocate the funds required to shore up the state’s levee and aqueduct systems. This isn’t just a California issue. With the 8th largest economy in the world at stake, this is a United States issue. Contact your state and federal legislators to let them know this must be addressed. Aside from climate change, this is truly more of a threat to our long term existence than any other foreign or domestic issue.

A good place to start would be contacting U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, Rep. Ami Bera (CA-7), Rep. Doris Matsui (CA-6), Rep. Jerry McNerney (CA-9) Jim Frazier (D-11)Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-13), Susan Bonilla (D-14), and Mariko Yamada (D-4) to bring this issue to their attention and request legislative action.

The legislative process is a slow one, especially in today’s political climate. So in the meantime while we pursue that path, don’t roll the dice. Make sure you have a MINIMUM of 7 gallons of water per person in your household securely stored (more if you have pets).

Disaster Prep & The Second Amendment


For the third year in a row, I gave a disaster preparedness presentation to the incoming first year class at American Film Institute. These 200 or so aspiring film makers come from all over the world, and it’s important they all understand how to prepare and cope with a major disaster such as an earthquake.

During the Q&A session, a woman from Australia asked if she should purchase a firearm to defend herself in the event someone tries to steal her supplies during potential civil unrest and chaos after a significant earthquake. She prefaced the question with the disclaimer, “I know this is a stupid question, but…”

I’ve been asked this question a lot over the years and it’s anything but stupid.

As I said to these students, for better or worse and without any judgement, the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution grants individuals the right to possess and carry firearms. Unfortunately, not everyone who exercises their Second Amendment rights is a law-abiding citizen with the best of intentions. It is not inconceivable that after a major earthquake, the situation for those who aren’t adequately prepared might become desperate enough for them to try and use force to take needed supplies from those who have them.

The decision how vigorously to defend your possessions is entirely a matter of individual choice. As you weigh various factors in your decision, consider the following study conducted in 2008 by the Rand Corporation which looked at officer-involved shootings in the New York Police Department between 1998 and 2006. When suspects did not return fire, police hit their targets a meager 30% of the time. In incidents where suspects returned fire, the hit rate plummeted to a paltry – and scary, 18%. Think about that for a moment. Over a 9 year period, with thousands of shots fired during that time, highly trained police officers only hit their intended targets less than 1 out of 5 times. According to an LAPD spokesman, these averages are about the same for Los Angeles police officers. That’s below the Mendoza Line. But these are potentially life and death situations we’re talking about, not something as frivolous as baseball.

So am I writing all this to disparage police officers as guys who can’t shoot straight? Not at all. In fact, the NYPD apparently has some of the most comprehensive and sophisticated firearms training of any police force in the country, using a combination of live fire, non-lethal force and simulated scenarios.

What it means is that all bets are off when it’s a real life stress situation. It’s not like the movies. Not even close. Even the performance of highly trained law enforcement professionals is severely impacted under stress. Imagine how the average person without any high level training in the use of firearms in a stress situation will perform. My concern is people will end up harming themselves or someone other than their intended target.

One thing we can all do is encourage our neighbors and others to purchase supplies and prepare to go without assistance for a week or more. The more people who are prepared, the fewer people who will feel the need to take from others.

The choice is yours. If you do decide to arm yourself, please be sure at a minimum to take a gun safety course, requalify on the use of your firearm periodically, and take all necessary precautions to prevent its unauthorized use.

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