Earthquake Preparedness for Preppers, by Janet C.

Prepper fever has gripped the nation!  While I can find no exact numbers on how many of us there are, public awareness is gaining momentum. The National Geographic Channel has a television show on the subject, which showcases some of the most colorful preppers in the United States, and their approach is as varied as their personalities.   You Tube is full of videos teaching old time skills that were a way of life for generations before us, such as cooking beans from scratch, making fire with a bow drill, or raising and butchering rabbits for meat.  With a little spare time, one can learn handy new skills in minutes and a few hours practice, for a lifetime of application.

I have been a prepper in the making since my earliest memories around age six, and I am now in my fifties.   The Great Depression left indelible marks on my parents and grandparents. I grew up watching them save rubber bands into giant balls, reuse tin foil and little bits of soaps were treated as valuable as a new bar. “Waste not, want not” was more than a cliché in our home.  

Stories of how folks survived by bartering with neighbors, hunting for wild berries, keeping a garden and caring for livestock, were told by my grandmother with the flair of James Herriot, the resourceful country veterinarian who authored the best-selling book All Creatures Great and Small.   Granny loved to recount how she could catch and dispatch a chicken, de-feather and put it in the pot, all by the time she was eight years old!  Sadly most of us wouldn’t know how to do that if our life depended on it…and one day soon, it may.

 While I have never had to endure that kind of “work or don’t eat” ethic growing up, the lessons were not lost on me. My ancestors had survived a colossal event and I was acutely aware of that possibility in my own life as a result.  Like Scarlett O’Hara, in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, they would “never be hungry again”, and I didn’t want to either. The ‘seeds’ of survival had been planted in my young impressionable mind.

About four years ago those ‘seeds’ started to sprout in my imagination; I developed a keen desire to start an emergency supply of foods and necessities for my family. Concerns gleaned from watching news of a changing and suffering world prompted me to action…it was time to reap what I knew.   It started with one five shelf rack in a corner of our four car basement garage…then I had a wood platform built over an open dirt area to support a supply of water.  Added a few more rack systems here and buckets there, it would be alarming if it wasn’t so wonderful!  Everything kept growing until Hubby realized just how serious it all was when I announced I wanted to become a one car family to “make more room.”  

Three quarters of our four car garage later, we have finally run out of room to add many supplies.   One of the characteristics of Prepper fever is that symptoms continually evolve. One rarely recovers once you catch it, the condition is progressive.  And so I looked into developing farming skills, keeping chickens, gardening, dehydrating food and canning. Stores of supplies won’t last forever; I will have to grow my own food to be viable for any long term event.  Granny would be proud!

You Tube is now my favorite story hour showing how to prepare for uncertain times.  I love to watch as preppers take me through their basements, closets and homes, displaying neatly stacked rows of every variety of canned goods, homemade preserves, pickles and gleaming jars of golden applesauce.  From Spam and Top Ramen to the gourmet food prepper I saw on the National Geographic’s Doomsday Preppers, I soaked it up.  Everyone has their own idea of what food and items to store.    And that’s fine, personal taste and pocket book size will come together to create a food supply as unique as the individual who stores it.  

One day while reviewing some of my favorite food storage videos, I noticed a common pattern emerging.  All those neatly organized rows of jars, bottles and cans were sitting right up to and on the edge of disaster, literally.  Nothing between them and the hard floor below and it dawned on me, what would happen if there was an earthquake? 

In this day and age of escalating earth moving events, earthquakes are predicted to become more common place than ever.  From Bible prophecy to web sites that update world-wide seismic events daily, they are poised to become a reality to be reckoned with.  The problem with earthquakes is that they aren’t a problem, until they are!  Suddenly, unpredictably so!   And we are told they can happen anywhere!

People that have never lived through an earthquake don’t have it in their minds to consider the havoc that can be created in less than a minute.   I lived through the Northridge, California Quake on January 17, 1994, which lasted 20 seconds and left damages of nearly $20 billion. Our best friend had to vacate his now leaning “tower of Pisa” condo, which took nine months to restore, and he had to pay the mortgage the whole time!  My mother lost two irreplaceable antique glass birds off her piano, and every dish and tumbler we had crashed to the floor, most were broken, and all from behind closed cabinet doors!  It was a mess…but nothing we lost affected our survival…we were lucky. 

I went back and reviewed my favorite videos with a whole different thought in mind.  All of these precious stores of food, along with the time and money poured into their loving procurement and placement on shelves could be destroyed in mere moments.   What then?   Aside from the obvious, cleaning up the mess and taking inventory, stalwart preppers would go back to work and try to replace what was lost. 

But, what if we couldn’t?  What if supplies were no longer available? What if inflation had taken hold and canning jars are now $12 each, instead of $12 a box?   Or maybe gasoline prices had gone sky high and there is no longer a budget to buy extra food for storage.  What if the season to grow fruits and vegetables was still months away?   Or what if hard times have already brought rationing?   All of these things are expected to happen at some point, to some degree, by those who prepare.  Maybe our supplies might not be replaced, to our liking, if at all.

So let’s reverse the projector movie image of crashing jars and cans, in our mind, and have those smashed jars and dented cans now fly backwards onto the shelves, pulling themselves back together again!  Your goods are safe!   There’s still time for you to take precautions against just such an event.   

In this article my wish is to inspire you to join me!  I didn’t want all my efforts go to waste, by way of an earthquake, for want of a few precautions.  Here are some of the solutions that that I have implemented in my own situation.  Not having many tools or skills to match, but handy with an electric drill, I have met my goals with minimal expense and effort.   I was also limited by having to work with the space configuration I had created…there was no going back and starting over.  

The first thing I did was tackle my six foot tall heavy steel shelf racks. We emptied and re-arranged them, placing them back to back to each other, so products would butt up against one another in the middle, and keep the inside items relatively safe.  This type of freestanding steel shelf system can be bolted to the floor, for added stability.  We did not do this, as we also have water issues in the basement with heavy rain of more than a week’s duration, but it is an option for those who don’t have flooding problems. 

On the open side of each steel rack unit, I put up cross bars to block items from flying off.   The corner posts of the shelves have V shaped openings through which bolt heads can be attached.  I measured and purchased long boards, 2.5”x .75” x 6.5’, the width of the shelf from frame to frame.  I drilled two holes at the end of each board to correspond with the V slots in the corner posts, to allow for different positions.  Slip the four inch bolt through a hole in the board and spin the wing nut onto the threaded end.

Now position the board across the food items on the shelves to the desired position, and slip the bolt’s nut head into the V slot on the outer frame.  Because of the V shaped grooves, the bolt head sets in securely.  Spin the wing nut to tighten, and voila!  I had a secure stopping point in front of my valuable goods.   You can raise and lower the bar to any level and even put the boards at an angle, by just setting the bolt head in a higher or lower V slot, and adjusting the bolt in one of the two holes drilled in the board and securing the wing nut.  

Permanent blocking bars can be added instead, but the wing nuts make this system extra serviceable.  They spin off and on quickly and the boards swivel up or down to add product, or remove completely if needed. Even if you don’t have the metal type shelves that I do, placing long bars across book shelf style cabinets or wood shelves works just as well, just measure and drill accordingly.  Add more boards if needed, to accommodate tall products or stacked boxes. 

Blocking bars should be placed high enough that items cannot tip over them in an earthquake, but low enough to keep things from slipping through under the board as well.   Double boards usually fill most requirements for holding goods back.  I am still delighted with the design every time I use them, no carpenter skills needed and a very affordable solution.

I had a few areas where I could not use these boards, due to foundation poles and walls being in the way.  For these areas I tried bungee cords.  These do a marginal job and will hold things like toilet paper and paper towels back, but even stretched taut, they did not have the holding power of the boards.  Still, I do find them handy for temporary applications.  Multiple bungees can make a difference. The bungee ends are re-useable, so pick up a spool of the bungee cord, and you can tie your own later when they fray, which they will with time. I have found with one year of use outdoors, and about two years indoors they need to be watched or replaced.  

After the boards and bungees were in place, we simulated earthquakes, shaking and moving the shelves and decided keeping things from falling to the floor was just the first step.  I had originally stacked canned goods three or more high, as they do in grocery stores.   It looks nice and stays just fine, when not moving!   So I decided to box all cans and jars.  This also had the added advantage of preventing mold on some of the paper labels, as well as keeping like items together.  Marking the exteriors of the boxes with product, number and dates also makes a handy reference system for rotating boxes, as needed.   And they slide out like drawers (I remove the box lids), when I take down the wood bars holding them in place.  It’s still as easy to grab an item off the shelf as it ever was.

Take advantage of Club Stores bins of free boxes and use these for sorting your cans.  I like boxes that are double folded and have a nice polished finish on them, for example, the boxes that hold olive oil are great for stacking. This type seems to hold up well against moisture, which can be a problem in humid areas.  There are sizes to fill most needs.   Once you have identified boxes that fit and work with your products and spacing, fill and place them on the shelves. Select all of the same size, and you can stack them more easily. Test shaking these newly arranged boxes we decided glass items would need a little insulation from one another.  While most bottles and jars would probably survive a modest shaker, it would still be possible to lose glass to a long or serious earthquake, as they clinked repeatedly against each other.  

 Earthquakes can last a long time.  The Great Alaska Earthquake of 1964 had strong motion that lasted four to five minutes, with reports up to eight minutes.  With this in mind, I repacked all glass with a plastic grocery bag around each, twisting the top around the sides, to create bulk between them and close out dust and moisture.  Grocery plastic bags are still free at most markets, so start collecting them while they are available.  Some areas are actually starting to charge for them, I have seen added fees as much as ten cents a bag. I plan to recycle the bags in the future, for a variety of uses.  A simple inexpensive solution, no more clinking glass! 

Earthquake straps proved to be the solution for one tall wood cabinet holding miscellaneous goods.  At nearly seven feet tall, it was a concern for human safety as well as my supplies.  There are several styles of these straps on the market.  I didn’t want to drill holes in the cabinet, so I selected a design with peel and stick Velcro® brand hook & loop straps on one end to attach to the cabinet and a steel bracket that I mounted to a stud in the wall.  The straps are connected by a buckle in the middle that is adjustable for a snug fit.   I used child safety locks to secure the four doors, which could easily fly open, even if the cabinet would no longer fall.  I finished the whole project in less than an hour.  These two solutions I installed throughout my entire home, for added security and peace of mind.   

For smaller glass items and spices, I purchased zip style sandwich baggies, and sealed each container inside and arranged them in suitable sized boxes.  The baggies act as buffer for glass against glass, and will also come in handy for reuse.  Smaller boxes of spices were nested in larger boxes by type and use, so they could be organized behind the safety bars.  No shake, rattle or roll, with heavy handed rocking tests. Socks also work great, instead of plastic bags.   The jars won’t clink and the socks can be recycled later for feet or rags.

 Taking inventory of my cooking oils, I was pleased to see I had amassed quite a supply by picking up a bottle each trip to the market.  If these were damaged in a shaker, I would have a mess I didn’t care to imagine.  I also realized I had a small fortune in future liquid gold here, so these needed some serious attention, quickly!   Each bottle was wrapped in adhesive bubble wrap (it’s a wonderful product, sticky like post it notes, re-useable and tears to fit the size required) and arranged to fit snuggly in a five gallon plastic bucket.  I added oxygen absorbers to the bucket, and sealed with a gamma lid (screw top lids) so I could get to them easily, adding new oxygen absorbers each time I took out a new bottle.  There is also the added advantage of keeping them protected from light and air, which are time enemies of oil.

Buckets were also my choice for extra supplies of syrup, jam and other delectable glass jar delights whose loss we would mourn.   But to keep costs down, as buckets can add up, a more frugal method would be to store in boxes by alternating a plastic jar with a glass jar, to prevent clinking glass.  Peanut butter mostly comes in plastic jars, and jelly mostly in glass, although there are exceptions.  I rotate my peanut butter and jelly jars this way, and they are perfect “moving buddies” should things start to shake.   We tested vigorously, with no alarming sound of glass.  

When I first started storing bulk food in buckets, I had not yet discovered mylar bags.   I had put up quite a bit of Jasmine rice this way.  So I opened one of these buckets after three years of storage. The rice was still fragrant, dry and perfect, even though I stored it directly on concrete, which I have since learned is not a good idea due to moisture coming up through the cement. I now stack all of my buckets on pallets.  For the budget minded, free buckets can be had by asking at your local market bakery, and there are free pallets on Craigslist for the vigilant watcher.

I decided to repack my rice in mylar bags, inside their buckets.  This way if they should tip or fall in an earthquake, and the buckets crack open, the product is still intact inside.  If the bucket does fall and break, but just slide the mylar bag into another bucket with no serious loss of food. 

My spices and jars of dehydrated foods are kept in a book case type cabinet, with dowels as blocking bars.  I worried that some of the taller jars could topple over the dowel, and smaller spice jars could slip under, if they tipped over. I fixed this problem by adding small bits of quake hold to the bottom of each jar.  It is a brand name for museum putty, a non-toxic dough that secures the jar to the shelf.   After my experience with the quakes in California, I tried this product on decorative items I had around the house and it works great!  NOTHING with the Quake Hold fell in any earthquake after that, and I have been through several.   It is re-useable, just stick the jar back where you got it, push down and it holds, again and again.  Museums use it, it works! 

Since most of us don’t have the luxury of unlimited space to make everything ground floor, some stacking may be necessary with buckets.  I arranged mine five high, before I started thinking safety and loss.  But I needed to know how they would survive a crash to the ground.  I set up an area with four by four buckets, stacked five high, there were 80 buckets.   Knocking them down I had a moment of hesitation, as it’s like sticking a balloon with a pin, awaiting the dreaded pop.  

To simulate how they might fall in an earthquake, we used six individuals to push some buckets with long handled tools from a distance and the rest of us pulled lines tied to handles, to get all to fall in the most spectacular fashion possible.   It’s not easy to knock that many buckets down, we discovered, and only the upper most fell, from the fifth and fourth level.  I was amazed that not a single bucket cracked or broke open!  I did gain confidence in their ability to do the job.  Even if some do break, if a real test comes along, the mylar bags are like a second line of defense that will hold things together.  

 Based on personal experience, I no longer stack gallons of water more than two high!  Water is heavy and I have lost some to eventual leakage, just from the weight of the top bottles over time.   I now only buy my bottled water still in boxes.  Grocery stores will order and hold them for you this way, if you ask.   The water you buy in gallon jugs on the shelf arrives from the shippers boxed, but are removed to be put on the market shelves.  

One item I will only keep on ground level is powered milk.  Mine came in six gallon super pails, with no mylar bags.  I chose not to repackage them, as they have oxygen absorbers in them, and the lids were all sealed.  If they fell from a high position and cracked, the milk powder would be flow freely.  Beans can be swept up and used after a good rinse, but powdered milk is fine and sticky, and at least some would be lost.  If you have canned milk at the LDS Canneries know what a mess it is to clean up, even when you are careful not to spill much.

Assess your supplies, and a logical order will dictate your storage needs.  If you have to stack higher than you like, consider placing soft landing items next to areas where taller buckets would fall.   Blankets, sealed in plastic vacuum bags, toilet paper and paper towels, bundled in large 55 gallon bags.   Also  the same bags full of market grocery bags.   I have one whole row of soft items stored next to my only six high stacked wall of buckets.  If they do fall, their landing will be softer and items below will also survive.

I feel my storage is now measurably safer than before I implemented these simple and inexpensive ideas.  Like food prepping, safety prepping is addictive. I will continue to imagine the worse, so I can prepare the best.  I look forward to viewing new You Tube videos showing some of these ideas, as well as others I didn’t use. The prepper community is resourceful and clever.  Whatever the skill level and budget one has to work with, I hope I have demonstrated that taking a little time and effort will pay off if and when the ground starts moving in a town near you!  .