Alaska Earthquake After Action Report, by S.J.

Alaska had a bit of excitement last Friday when a 7.0 earthquake struck. Although it wasn’t a massive quake per se, it was very close to Alaska’s main population center, Anchorage. I had a few observations to pass along:

  • People behaved themselves well. Granted, the aftermath of the quake wasn’t too extreme, but overall people were on their best behavior. I think this shows that you can usually expect better than normal behavior from people in situations where the disaster is perceived as something that will be solved shortly.
  • My preparations gave me great peace of mind, in addition to the fact that I live in a smaller town outside Anchorage and work just 3 miles from home. I can’t recommend enough living in a smaller town and working close to home.
  • People from my area who commute the normal 45 minutes into Anchorage had a slow drive home the day of the quake. Personally, if I knew my family and house were safe, I would have stayed with a friend in Anchorage rather than attempt to get home. Which brings me to my next point…
  • Sometimes the way people react to situations can be worse than the original event. As I said earlier, people behaved themselves well, but they were rushing on the road to get home or get their kids from school. There were several accidents that were no doubt caused by this.

  • The runs on the gas stations were almost immediate, with everyone was out trying to fill up right after. One of my friends barely made it back from Anchorage because of the fuel situation, but a kind stranger at the gas station gave him 10 gallons to get back. I did not witness any bad behavior at gas stations.
  • I think you can expect highways to turn into parking lots quickly in an emergency as people run out of gas or have accidents. Do you think you’re the only one who knows about a detour? Probably not, expect your side route to be choked as well. Another great reason to work close to home.
  • I went to the supermarket mostly just to see what things were like (probably not the best idea but I believed the situation was calm enough that I could do it safely). While everyone was calm and orderly, people looked shaken (no pun intended) and serious. It was interesting to see what people had in their carts for their 12th hour “preps.” Bottled water and snack foods mostly, as well as canned foods with limited calories such as soups. The bottled water had me scratching my head. There was plenty of snow, most people still had power and the ability to run water into jugs at home, and most people here are never more than a few miles from a creek or river with water. Why waste time with a paltry 24 case of water? Make no mistake, the ignorance of the most basic things like drinking water is real among most Americans, even here in oh so rugged Alaska. I’m glad this all turned out be a fairly minor incident because if there had been extended infrastructure issues I think most people would have been helpless.
  • I have a friend who is a police officer locally, and he reported that people were generally orderly that day. Again, I believe it shows that most people are actually better behaved during a disaster deemed to be short term in nature.
  • The only 2 preps I wished I had on hand were more small propane bottles for Coleman stoves and heaters. While I have plenty of other ways to cook, these would have been very convenient had the gas or electricity went off. I also had no chainsaw gas on hand without siphoning it out of my vehicles. Another over sight on my part that fortunately did not bite me.

Overall, the most important preparation I made was mental. I knew a large earthquake was inevitable, so I wasn’t paralyzed when it finally happened (if you live near Seattle, are you listening? The Cascadia fault is overdue). Spend a few minutes every day thinking about survival scenarios, not worrying, but mentally rehearsing the actions you will take.

I hope this report can help everyone out as they prepare for similar situations and much worse. Godspeed.


  1. Just wondering if you think the same would occur in the Lower 48? Say in the cities of Detroit, Chicago, L.A., or Baltimore. I’m thinking the resilience, self-reliance, and sense of responsibility in Anchorage are on a different part of the scale.

    1. I lived in Seattle a while, and let’s just say I wouldn’t want to be there when something like this happened. People in Anchorage weren’t nearly as prepared as they should have been, but at least there is some residual mental toughness. I’d expect people to be panicked or worse in most other cities.

    2. As a lifelong Californian, believe me when I say the average person here in SoCal is unprepared for anything. Not too long ago, the pressure regulator in the 10″ LADWP water main that services my local area of 100 homes broke, requiring it to be shut down for a week, with full restoration not happening until a month later. WITHIN ONLY ONE HOUR OF THIS HAPPENING, nearly all my neighbors from several houses in all directions came out of their homes literally confused and angry at the inconvenience. I played the role of the “grey man” and acted the same, walking outside to listen to the conversations…people were wondering how they were going to flush their toilets or wash their hands (one guy was making hamburgers and had no water to even wash the meat of his hands). As for myself, I always maintain an ample supply, so I quietly went back inside and kept to myself, not letting on that I had plenty of supplies to comfortably last me through the ordeal. Some of those same neighbors began loudly complaining that “someone” needed to bring them water (I assume the city/county/municipal entities?). I’m not sure how word got out, but the next morning a delivery truck came by and gave a full case of bottled water to each home affected by the breakage, and it was appalling to see how happy people were to be “saved” with the gesture of such a small quantity. Total lack of foresight and preparation. God save us if anything widespread actually happens.

  2. very well written. Too bad when trouble happens in the lower 48, it is so different. I am so ashamed at the public, when looting and gang things happen. Our country has so much to be proud of, but people need to help, not hurt the businesses that they need.

  3. Good report.
    In 2001 I was working on a pier supported by 200′ piles. When the Nisqually quake hit, the concrete pier and support structure to include portal crane rails was moving in waves. It was like standing on a diving board with falling stuff trying to hurt you.
    That was a 6.8 magnitude quake which is much less powerful than the one you just experienced.

    The most siginifcant direct effect on our family was that the aquifer was stirred up. The water coming out of our well was full of silt. The water settled out in about a week.
    During a larger quake the aquifer level could change permanently rendering our wells useless. As has been discussed before, we need to plan for alternate sources of water.

    Something as simple as keeping hard soled slippers or shoes next to your bed might save your life in the aftermath. Stuff is going to break.

    When a Cascadia quake occurs it is likely to be much worse. There are many published reports on this subject. We need to read and heed.
    I like the thought “Spend a few minutes every day thinking about survival scenarios, not worrying, but mentally rehearsing the actions you will take.”
    Great advice, this sentence should be posted in our homes.

  4. I really appreciate this report from an everyday citizen who lives in or near a disaster, especially from one who is a prepper. The “news media” often misses the main points that people need to hear about. Their “service” is geared to liberal seaboard news markets and they have no reference to relate to the people who live in rural areas and who can generally take care of themselves. We people who live in “fly over” country are “odd creatures” compared to them.
    Concerning the comment about small propane bottles, I happened upon an item in a Walmart store that I really like. It is not an item for long term use, but it is excellent for short term transitions. The item is a portable gas stove that comes in a plastic suitcase, that measures 14″ x 12″ x 4″ thick. It weighs about 2 pounds. It uses small propane cylinders that are about the size of paint spray cans. It is made by Coleman, p/n 2000020958. It sells for $29.21 on Amazon, The small cylinders are only a few dollars. If I were to go on long road trips, I would take this with me.
    To give an example of use. We were awakened by the power going off one morning. The temperature outside was 25 degrees F. My wife was discussing who wanted to go outside and heat water on the gas grill to make some coffee before we started assessing the situation. Then she remembered this little stove. She and I were very pleased to sit this on our electric stove, warm our hands until the water boiled. To operate the stove, you just insert the propane can and pull down a lever to lock it in place. Turn the knob and the burner has an automatic igniter. Always remove the aerosol can from the stove before you put the stove back in its storage case. This info is in the instructions. I tried to leave the can in placed, but it leaked propane. We have made many pots of coffee and cooked breakfast on one can of fuel. The can is designed to auto seal when removed from the stove. I purchased my stove on clearance for less than $20 and have found the propane cans on sale for $2. Propane cans=
    I have several Coleman stoves that operate on gasoline. I found and adapter at Academy Store that can convert an older model gas stove to propane bulk tanks. I assume that the same could be done with a propane stove that uses the small bottles. I have more info if needed.

    1. Yes, those small one-burner stoves are very useful. The fuel is butane (not propane) and it doesn’t work well at low temps, below approx 40F — the fuel cans ice up. Propane is better in this regard.

  5. It comes as no particular surprise that the population in and around Anchorage behaved well. First, it was a local disaster. The damage was relatively limited for an earthquake of this size. I doubt that anyone there believed that they would be on their own for a lengthy period. People could reasonably expect that federal and state resources would be flowing into the area relatively soon.

    Second, Anchorage has different demographics than major urban centers in the lower 48. Even then, had this same earthquake occurred in one of the major cities in the lower 48 states, the results would be much less violent/disruptive than if a similar quake occurred in, say, July.

    Forgive me if I have overlooked an historical incident, but I can remember no massive disturbance, riot, or looting that has ever taken place in a major American city when the prevailing temperatures were in the vicinity of 20-30 degrees Farenheit.

    Those who have a predisposition to loot like to do their work when it’s warm.

    1. You make an excellent point re:weather conditions during events that could lead to poor behavior. It is very true that historically speaking, campaigns, either military or social, are conducted during the spring and summer. Thinking on it, other than Napoleons miserable winter in Russia (which was NOT planned), I cannot think of any major campaign that took place in the winter. What’s more, humans are far less patient or reasonable when they are hot, and energy levels drop in the cold. Your insight has peaked my curiosity. I’ll be doing more research on this topic.

  6. SJ, any comments on cell phone communications in the immediate aftermath of the quake?

    I’ve analyzed After Action Reports from multiple hurricanes and earthquakes and one of the common factors is communications overloads as everyone tries to call their families and friends and there isn’t enough functioning infrastructure to support the volume of calls.

    1. Not an expert, but I think the conversion to 4G/LTE only cell/mobile voice services makes this less likely. Mobile calls are sent as a data stream like a VOIP call, and most smartphones have constant data streams w/ nearby towers.

  7. With reference to the leaking propane container: You can scrub bar soap on the male threads and achieve a good seal that is reasonably permanent and easily overcome. Test it with soapy water to assure the seal. Do not depend on the small cylinders auto sealing when they are removed from the stove; I almost blew up my garage due to that little bug.

  8. On the phone communications: Phones worked well throughout, although there were some minor hiccups from people flooding the system all at once. Texts seemed to work best, calls you might have to try a few times to get through.

    I really should reiterate that while people behaved well, the whole episode was fairly minor in terms of damage. I expect that people might have started to get more frantic if things had been worse.

  9. We’ve stopped using the small propane cylinders and now use our camp stoves and bbq using an adapter we purchased from Gander mountain which allows the use of 20lb cylinders . Much cheaper in the long run.

  10. Around Anchorage, you may want to start prepping for BUG OUT. I’ll know more once I get boots on the ground prospecting this summer. I have found a fault line that seems to be emitting volcanic gas up where I’m going to prospect. It’s killing trees in patches along a line 4 miles long. The line pointed at one of the aftershocks which was about a mile from the end of the line. This might be a crack over a magma intrusion (don’t worry), or may be a magma chamber (worry!). USGS has been notified to check things out. Off-chance, this might be a coincidence of the spruce beetle invasion, but it looks more like a fault line.

    So this is your head’s up! Get prepped to bug out in event of eruption. We don’t know what this thing’s going to do yet, but be prepared!

  11. Yes, people behaved themselves and that has been attributed to very few houses in Anchorage were severely damaged. There was, only spotty electricity outages throughout Anchorage, natural gas on the most part flowed normally so most of the city had heat. We had over 20 water main breaks and one water storage tank was emptied before the valves affecting the tank could be turned off. There was a brief boil your water alert but many like me ignored it. If it would have been worse, with brown water coming from my taps, I have several different water filters and many gallons of water stored. As for the run on the gas stations, well only one gas station tried price gouging and that was the Shell station at Northern Lights and Minnesota. The gas run lasted a few hours and by the next day everything was back to normal. The roads in Anchorage were packed with people getting their children from school. Schools were closed all week for repairs and clean up and 3 schools will be closed for the rest of the school year due to damage. Monday Anchorage schools reopen, some schools in the Valley have reopened already. We stayed home and only went out to check on our properties for damage. We have a full pantry, water and heat so we didn’t need anything. Sunday, we went to the grocery store mostly to see what they looked like and there were many bare areas on some shelves, the meat section was very thin but some of that could be attributed to unloading at the dock was suspended for a while. The comment about melting snow got a chuckle from me since my grass is still poking through the snow. I have less than 2 inches in my yard and it has several bare spots with no snow.
    There were 4 structure fires in Anchorage attributed to the quake one just 4 blocks from our home. The damage for us, for years I did personal property appraisals starting before computers were what they are now so I had shelves of reference books, pamphlets and papers for reference on everything from coins & guns to antique furniture. This all came onto the floor and many of these papers and books are obsolete and now reside in the land fill. We lost a few crystal wine glasses and 2 almost empty bottles of liquor. We are using this event to declutter our home.
    An interesting note all shelves running East/West had nothing fall from the shelves but shelves running North/South were emptied.
    Most of the roads in Anchorage are repaired and traffic is back to normal.
    There are only 2 roads out of Anchorage, one North, The Glenn Highway and one South, the Seward Highway. There were rock slides on the Seward Highway that closed it for a few hours and we are still having rocks fall on the road. The Glenn Highway and the south lanes at Mirror lake sluff and collapsed the road. Traffic was diverted to “road sharing” in the north bound lane. This made traffic slow but it still moved. This concept was new for us here. The Railroad had some damage but was repaired and running by Thursday. The airport was closed for about 20 minutes.
    TV stations went off the air for a few hours, radio stations for a few minutes, cell phone was overloaded but texting was normal, land line was normal, the internet never was disrupted.
    To date we have had over 2888 aftershocks most just 1 or 2 but several in the 4 range and some in the 5 range. These get our attention. We had a saying when I was in the Army, “When in fear, when in doubt, run in circles scream and shout” some people including my wife and dog are nervous wrecks. She won’t leave my side, the dog that is. There is another saying we had when I was in Vietnam, “When the shit hits the fan, look for the calm person. He either doesn’t know the magnitude of the situation or he has a plan”. This is me, you cannot stop the quake so plan for it and when the shaking stopes enact your plan. For me yes it was exciting for 90 seconds but in reality, this was an inconvenience with one more thing I have to do.
    I have done 2 articles here on the last 7.2 quake that we had and what the stores looked like when one of our supply ships was in for repairs for 3 weeks. Many Anchorage people are woefully unprepared for a major event.

  12. Last week our CERT instructor, along with the Fire District staff, and the County Sheriff’s Office Facebook Blog, all restated again for the umpteenth time that people in our region should be prepared to be cut off from all subsistence support in an earthquake.

    They proclaim clearly that each person should have at least 30 days water and non-perishable food on hand, per person. More people are coming in line with that, but still the majority of the population here-laced heavily with Cali Fugees over the past 20 years- refuse.

    For prepping this week, I got my hardened storage locker delivered, and placed more tool orders for both short and long items. Oh, and I also started a winter feeding program in my shop. Temps in the teens prompted small denizens to seek indoor quarters.

    Fuel prices are down now, and the news reporter announced tonight that the USG is saying to enjoy low prices now because price will jump up in the spring. So we will clean out more containers with sealable bungs, fill them absolutely full to eliminate as much air space as possible, treat it using PRI-G to preserve the gas, then use a bung wrench to tighten to keep all those precious volatile gases in the fuel. Label container using blue tape with date, # of gallons, and PRI-G added.

    Purchasing grains: even for gluten free folk, intact whole grains are a very valuable commodity. Wheat can be used, traded, sold, planted and grown, sprouted for greens, made into fuel, or fed to animals for meat and egg production. I freeze all my grains and rice in their sacks for a week before storing them in mylar. That kills the type of micro-organisms that ate up my stored pasta one year before I improved my practices. Stock up while we have good prices.

    The trade war is giving you an opportunity for low cost ag commodities right now, to take advantage. I am getting more apple cider, grains, beef, and legumes.

    Best wishes and God Bless you all

  13. I lived in Alaska for 30 years before moving to Utah. I went thru earthquake’s, Volcanoes, and power outages for a week at a time so being prepared was the norm. We always had diesel , gas, and kerosene on hand. A good wood heating stove and plenty of water. In the old days when you went to Anchorage from the Kenai it was a good Idea to have all your survival gear with you during the winter, all the time.
    People were glad to help you out and be there for each other. Not so much in today’s world. Not being prepared is being a” Fool “and not listening to the old trimmers. We know the way to do thing’s none of the young people now about today. It is only a guess but probably 98% of our youth can’t build a fire or shelter, let alone find any thing to eat.
    I have reached a point in life” At 80 years old (also a vet.) that “If you don’t want to listen then that’s to bad.” Just don’t knock on my door for help. It will be as the Bible say’s “Only widows and orphans”
    I have been in many situation that I was sure glad those old Guy’s and Gal’s showed me how to do thing and chewed my ass out when I didn’t listen. I sure wish they were still around and could” thank them”.
    Also the young people in Scouting and other organizations that show youth how to do good thing for themselves and others is a blessing. As a young person most don’t think much of what they have learned getting there merit badges will come in handy.
    In Nam my buddy was sure happy to know how to tie knots,wood crafts, and many other thing he learned to becoming an Eagle Scout. He credited this to keeping him alive.
    I wish all of the people who read this take time an educate yourself in the way’s of the past it’s worth learning
    The Gman.

  14. Just a couple of items that may be of interest regarding portable propane stoves, lanterns and heaters. Walmart carries with there supply side stocking an adapter that allows
    you to refill the Coleman type 16 oz. cylinders for about $.50 each from a 5 gallon cylinder. Caution: do not fill a small cylinder from a large one unless they are the same temperature. It is better to error on the side of caution when filling the small cylinders that you DO NOT OVERFILL them. They are free if you scrounge a bit. When we go camping I dumpster dive and always come back with 4-10 that others throw away. As far as the single burner Butane fueled stoves I love them. They work well and using butane heat a lot faster than propane. A bit of chemistry, the carbon chain is methyl, ethyl, propyl, butyl, etc. each step up adds a carbon + 2 hydrogen atoms to the molecule, Thus there is more energy in Butane than Propane, Most of Europe and the world uses Butane for this reason? Buy them by the case at an oriental store, about $1.25/cylinder. I used to lug around Coleman white gas stoves and pump and repair them when camping, a little cooking oil dropped down the pump to soften the leather saved many the day But the price of white gas has become prohibitive. I cannot get $5 for a Coleman stove at a garage sale. Keep prepping and be safe.

  15. Do not refill the disposable cylinders! They are illegal to transport if refilled!

    White gas isn’t so bad as it sounds. A gallon of gas is equivalent to 4 bottles of propane in both heat and price. I have propane converters for all my white gas stoves and one is duel fuel.

    This summer/fall we had a shortage of white gas. Stocks are back now.

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