By Ashley Zartner, 16, Bell HS
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Ashley Zartner, 16 (at right), organized a family meeting to create an earthquake preparedness plan.
Photo by Editor Amanda Riddle

When I heard that every family in L.A. is supposed to have an earthquake plan, I was doubtful. My family can barely manage to have dinner together—how on earth could we possibly have time to sit down and plan for earthquakes? A family meeting for emergency planning seemed like something that only TV people like the Brady Bunch would do. Even though it seemed difficult, I decided to try.

I began by talking to my older sister Aisha. I told her that we were going to have a family meeting to plan for earthquakes. She responded, "What?" She had no idea what I was talking about. I explained that earthquake safety is something Californians should seriously think about. Both my sisters are older than I am and they have kids, so emergency planning is even more important.

I told my other sister, Ruby, about this meeting too. However, as the weeks passed, I realized that getting my family together would be very difficult. If we did in fact have it with the entire family as I wanted, this would mean my five nieces and nephews under the age of 9, my grandmother, my sister and her husband, my other sister, my mother, and me. If you’ve never been in a house with five young children, believe me, it is hectic. They don’t sit still, and they’re never quiet. There was no way we would get it done with them in the house. Plus, my sisters had very different work schedules. It didn’t seem that it would work out this way.

So I decided what would be best was a meeting with just my sister Aisha, my mother and I, because we all live in the same house. I finally got Aisha to take the day off. So the meeting was set for a Thursday morning when the kids were at school, and I was on summer vacation. Our only interruption was my nephew Andrew, who’s only 3, so we really had to keep an eye on him.

Earthquake supplies were high on the list

To prepare for the meeting, I used earthquake planning information from the Internet to compile a list of things to discuss. My list included creating an earthquake supply kit, finding out how we would contact each other in case of an emergency, and prioritizing safety to-do’s throughout our house.

Bright and early at 8 a.m. we all sat down in the kitchen. My mom had her coffee and I had my list. We discussed what items were important enough to go into an earthquake kit. We came up with a first aid kit, which should consist of Band-Aids, gauze, antiseptic and other important stuff. We also decided that we would need non-perishable food (like canned goods), water, money, children’s Tylenol, and other things like flashlights, extra batteries, extra shoes and extra clothes. We decided that, if possible, my mother would try to get an extra bottle of my grandmother’s medicine, because if she goes without it for long, she can have seizures. We chose a place to store our supplies—in the shed alongside the house, mainly because we have no room in our house for earthquake supplies.

Next was emergency contact phone numbers. The information that I gathered said it was best to have an out-of-area contact in case phone lines were down. We decided on my brother who lives in South Dakota, and said that if there was an emergency, and we were not together, we would all first call my brother and leave a message with him to let the others know that we’re OK. Then we had to choose a safe place to meet. My mom suggested a local store, Smart & Final. It’s only a block away from my house, so there’s easy access. My sister was assigned to contact the kids’ schools and find out their earthquake plans so we could coordinate.

We then discussed basic safety precautions throughout our house. We have smoke detectors, but ours are so old that we decided to install new ones. We also talked about compiling a list of emergency phone numbers and putting it next to each phone. We each made sure we knew where the water, gas and electricity shut-off valves were, so we can shut them off if we need to. We planned to tell my other sister and her husband about our plans so they would also know what to do. Within an hour, we were done.

Overall, having an earthquake planning meeting was very simple. Even though it was difficult to get my family together, it was worth the time. Of course, now I face the next challenge—nagging my mom to actually make the earthquake kit. Still, I feel good that we’ve taken the first step toward making our house and our family safer.