Take Two®

News and culture through the lens of Southern California. Hosted by A Martínez

Everything you need to know about prepping for a disaster in LA

by Lori Galarreta, Leo Duran, and Sean McHenry | Take Two®

75522 full
Aeria view of wrecked cars litter the connector ramp from Interstate 5 to Highway 14 following the Northridge earthquake, on Jan. 17, 1994, in Northridge, California. During Northridge earthquake damage was widespread, sections of major freeways collapsed, parking structures and office buildings collapsed, and numerous apartment buildings suffered irreparable damage. Carlos Chiebeck/AFP/Getty Images

The disaster in Houston wrought by Hurricane Harvey has a lot of us thinking about the potential for catastrophe in Southern California.

Questions abound: Do you know what you need to do to prepare? What kind of gear do you need? Do you try to leave town or stick around? What do you tell your kids?

A variety of experts spoke to Take Two to help answer all these questions, and we've put them together into a not-so-mini survival guide.

First, consider some of the general aspects of what you should do. For instance, there are tons of lists out there that suggest all kinds of gear you may need in the case of a disaster, but most of the time people who purchase these things don’t even know how to use them.

Christopher Nyerges has been teaching survival preparedness in L.A. for over 40 years. He stopped by Take Two to share his top five pieces of advice.

What to know in the case of a disaster

1. Knowledge is more useful than stuff.

When you go out and you go to Costco or you go to any of these places and you buy this stuff, you have a false sense of security. You have stuff now, but what don't you have? You don't necessarily have experience using it. You don't necessarily know the infrastructure that will swing into play when there is an emergency.

2. If a big quake hits, here's what to do immediately after the shaking stops.

Number one in your own home, look for wounded or hurt people. People are more important than stuff. If you have a neighborhood watch type thing, get together, walk your neighborhood. Look for elderly, look for children ... always help those first, who can't help themselves.

Decrease dangers. Turn off gas, if water is spurting out, turn it off. You should know how to do that ahead of time.

Another thing is, have first-aid supplies but know how to use them. The number of people who die from infections and wounds that can't be treated because of less than sanitary conditions following a major disaster always exceed those who are killed from the disaster itself.

3. Prepare beforehand, don't wait.

In his 40 years of teaching survival preparedness, Christopher shared that the most problematic thing he comes across in his teachings are people's attitudes.

What comes to mind is: "I'm a very important person, nothing is going to happen to me." 
"I'm gonna buy this stuff, eventually." 

You know something? Sometimes it is you and you're not ready. I always tell people, store far more than you think you can. I probably can do better in that regard myself.

4. Think twice before evacuating.

Here in Southern California, if there was a major quake, I'm not sure where everybody would go to, quite frankly. If you had an apartment there really may not be much to stay for, but if you had a home with a yard you could put a tent in the yard. You could cook in the yard. You could wash in the yard. You could make a toilet in the yard.

I'm not a big fan of evacuating unless it's absolutely necessary. Plan ahead for yourself if at all possible.

5. Storing water is the easiest and best thing to do.

Storing water is the cheapest and most essential thing to do if you live here in Southern California ... Plastic is the easiest thing to store things in. I use food-grade plastic.

Pro-tip: Christopher recommends using the plastic containers that house carbonated water. "I specifically save those because those will last up to five or six years before springing a leak," he says.

The plastic in these particular water bottles is thicker than non-carbonated water bottles because they need to keep the water fizzy.

For more of Christopher's tips, check out his website, here.

To hear this interview, click the SoundCloud player below.

Do you stay or do you go?

Let's say disaster does strike and you think the best place to be is anywhere but here.

But when it comes to a big earthquake, for example, Aram Sahakian, L.A.'s manager of emergency services, says it's safer for you to stay put.

"You have a debris issue. Buildings will fall, streets will collapse," he says. "Running to the desert might not even be a possibility."

The most common scenario where Southern Californians will need to flee are wildfires, and those will be pretty specific to one area.

Otherwise, there aren't many cases that he believes all of Los Angeles will need to flee.

"You will have localized evacuations, but you will not evacuate the whole city," says Sahakian.

If a mass exodus has to happen, though, officials have a lot of experience managing traffic.

Signals can be programmed to empty out certain arteries, for instance. Then once the roads are cleared, officials can use all lanes to push cars towards a certain direction.

This expertise comes from a surprising place to practice: awards season.

"We've done so many events over the years from the Grammys to the Academy," he says. "These are exercises for us for real situations."

That's because for the red carpet, officials will close off streets, redirect cars, and try to keep vehicles flowing.

"It's the same concept," says Sahakian, "except what you're adding to the equation is that now that this area that you've secured people in it? You're evacuating."

He adds, though, that it's very likely many roads will be blocked off during an emergency. So instead of thinking about how to evacuate, find ways you and your neighbors can come together to assist one another.

"You need to be able, as a community, help each other until help arrives to you," he says. 

To hear this interview, click the SoundCloud player below.

Having "the talk" with small kids

It's inevitable: Eventually, you have to have the disaster talk with your kids. But how do you walk the line between informative and alarmist? Melissa Brymer, the director of terrorism and disaster programs at the UCLA-Duke National Center for Child-Traumatic Stress, gave us some suggestions:

1. Before having the disaster talk, check in with your kid to see what they know.

You might be surprised. Then, you can gradually building up that knowledge. For Brymer, preparing for a disaster isn’t a one-time thing, but an ongoing conversation.  

Sometimes schools, even preschools, have discussions about earthquakes because they’re are responsible for having preparedness but also to explain in terms that they understand as parents don't know how much detail your child can handle and you can always come back to the conversation.

As parents you'll know how much detail your child can handle and you can always come back to the conversation. 

2. Use your “urgent voice” to let kids know when they need to listen

Kids are keen observers, and chances are, they probably know what your urgent voice already is. 

Parents have to go through alerts all the time, whether it's when the child and parent are crossing the street and all of a sudden a car is coming. So a child will know when they have to take a parent seriously.

And so you can already say to your child when an earthquake happens, you're going to hear that urgent voice, or that voice that it's time for you to follow my commands. 

3. It’s OK to say, “I don’t know.”

According to Brymer, uncertainty is a given in disaster situations. If you’re evacuated to a shelter, it’s often uncertain when you might return home. 

Well, the first step even before that is that for many families, there are no answers right now. And so what I would first tell a parent is, if you're not sure what's happening-- whether you can return or how long you're going to be somewhere-- It's okay to say I don't know. It's important not to lie. At the same time you want to reassure your child and say I'm going to be with you. So we're going to be making decisions together and we'll help you get to know what's going to happen next.

We do know after Katrina and after Hurricane Sandy young kids and school age kids had multiple moves we found in Katrina. Some had up to five six moves after that hurricane. So having these conversations is critical.

To hear this conversation, click the SoundCloud player below.


To hear all the interviews, click the blue play button above.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Enjoy Take Two®? Try KPCC’s other programs.

What's popular now on KPCC