What to do in an earthquake: an interview with an expert
Make an earthquake kit
My family’s earthquake plans

By Katherine Lam, 15, Ramona Convent (Alhambra)
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Kat's ready for an earthquake now, are you?

I’ve felt a rumble here and there, but these small earthquakes have never been enough to shake me up too badly. Living in Southern California all my life, I have never worried about earthquakes.

That’s what adults were supposed to worry about. I remember in elementary school when I had to bring a new earthquake kit with canned food and water to school every year. During our earthquake drills, the teachers ran around frantically checking to see that we were all lined up alphabetically and that no one was missing. Meanwhile, my friends and I would secretly smile at each other, happy to be standing out on the playground instead of being bored in class.

Back at home, my parents didn’t mention earthquakes too much, but I figured that they would take care of everything for me.

I wasn’t too surprised when I asked my friends recently if they were ready for an earthquake, and I found out they really didn’t care. One said, "If I die, I die." Several told me straight out not to talk to them about it—they were not the least bit interested. Another friend told me I sounded like a "paranoid mom."

A lot of teens seem to think that only uptight crazy people prepare for earthquakes. They imagine that they have to move all the furniture in their house or lug home 100 cartons of Arrowhead water bottles from Costco. They also think that it is hopeless to do anything about earthquakes because they’ll die anyway if it’s a bad one.

While I was chatting online with another friend, he told me that his room wasn’t earthquake-safe. He confessed that he had a television sitting on rollers on his desk and his shelves were overflowing with books, CDs, framed pictures and every kind of artwork imaginable. He never had the time to think about earthquakes, and why should he when he has had more urgent problems like college, friends and movies to think about? When asked what would convince him to earthquake-proof his room, he said he would do it if someone paid him. It just wasn’t a priority for him.

What if there was a bad quake?

I imagined my friend in an earthquake, with his TV rolling onto the floor, and all his stuff getting broken as it fell off the shelves. As I thought about what it would be like if an earthquake struck, I started to wish that teens cared more about it. I decided that I wanted to be more informed about earthquakes and learn how to protect myself and my friends in case a major earthquake did occur.

So I interviewed Faye Cousin, a City of Los Angeles emergency preparedness coordinator, to find out how to keep safe. (See the interview on the next page.) If it seems like there’s nothing you can do about earthquakes, I have some good news. We don’t have to stand back helplessly while our TVs shatter. In fact, there’s a lot of stuff we can do to help ourselves and protect our stuff—without turning into a paranoid mom.

I showed Faye some photos of my bedroom and she immediately pointed out a bunch of problems: clutter on the floor, the new shelf and lamp next to the head of the bed, the closet-on-wheels near the doorway, the bed next to the window. But most of these were easy to fix.

Though it's still messy, Katherine's bedroom is safer now that there's a clear path to the door, and the tall lamp is at the foot of the bed.
Photo by Katherine Lam, 15, Ramona Convent (Alhambra)

When I got home, I started by moving the floor lamp from the head of my bed to the foot of the bed, so the lamp couldn’t fall on me and break. I rolled the closet-on-wheels away from the doorway so it can’t fall and block my exit. My sister’s bed was next to the window, and there was nowhere else to put it. Faye’s advice: get out of bed if you feel an earthquake, and keep the blinds closed in case the window glass shatters.

The best part about getting ready for earthquakes was that it gave me a chance to worry about my favorite thing, my clutter. I tried to stack some stuff to the side of my room, but it’s hard to keep the path clear from the bed to the door, for an easy exit in case of an earthquake. After two hours, things piled up in the middle of the room anyway. I have to clear things about once a week.

And finally, I strapped down my computer. At first I wasn’t sure how to do that because of all the junk crowded around it. But after I rearranged some things on my desk, I was able to glue the straps onto the monitor and the desk so the computer can’t fall off.

As you can tell, earthquake preparation isn’t as insane as everyone thinks. It’s the normal stuff (like keeping your room picked up) that’s not only earthquake-safe, it could convince your mom that you really do deserve that new CD player or video game. On my journey down the road to being earthquake-safe, I must say that I started off as a normal skeptical teenager and I have realized that it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be.