Earthquake Preparedness for Senior Citizens

A new year is upon us and resolutions abound. If you are our family, there is one resolution that seems to slip from year to year and for residents of California, it is an important one – earthquake preparedness. The other morning while enjoying the sunshine outside and reading the paper in bed, my wife and I felt a sudden jolt as the house shook. Both cats were quickly airborne and heading for cover while we looked at each other with wide eyes and waited for the next shake. It did not come and after a few minutes as we willed out heart rates to return to normal we had that discussion that so many have after an earthquake. So, if that had been “the big one”, how earthquake prepared are we? What should we have done? Would we have stayed in the room or attempted to get outdoors? Is our earthquake preparedness kit up to date and ready to do the job?

Drop, Cover, and Hold On – During earthquakes, drop to the floor, take cover under a sturdy desk or table, and hold on to it firmly. Be prepared to move with it until the shaking stops.

Living in California we are supposed to be accustomed to earthquakes with their unpredictability and potential for damage. Having lived through the Loma Prieta quake a mere four miles from the epicenter, I know first-hand what a big quake can do as the house was rocked from its foundation, the chimney collapsed, the water heater was torn free from its base, and kitchen cabinets unceremoniously emptied their contents onto the floor. Fortunately no one in our family was hurt but the event left its mark on us all.

Earthquake preparedness is just common sense if you live in California and other parts of the world that are subject to tectonic activity. But how many of us have actually taken the time to prepare? And for senior citizens, there can be special considerations to address to be truly prepared. With the recent event (it turned out to be a brief and not-to-significant 3.9 quake centered about 20 miles from us but tell that to the cats!) we again did the “earthquake drill” to prepare for the eventual significant event that seismologists promise will occur within the next 30 years. You can find some additional information on preparedness at the USGS website and FAQ page. In the meantime, again leaning on my 52 years as a California resident (born and raised) with numerous earthquakes under my belt, I created the list below and want to share with you.

In an earthquake, should you head for the doorway?

“In modern homes doorways are no stronger than any other parts of the house and usually have doors that will swing and can injure you. YOU ARE SAFER PRACTICING THE DUCK, COVER, AND HOLD under a sturdy piece of furniture.”

Earthquake Preparedness Checklist

1.    Contact outside of the area – when a big earthquake hits, the local phone lines will be inundated with people attempting to reach loved ones to make sure everyone is okay. You need to establish a contact point for family members preferably outside of the state. A central person that everyone agrees to call to check in. We have a friend on Colorado designated and all of us have his phone number programmed into our cells. If you do not do anything else to prepare for an earthquake, set this up today.

2.    Prescriptions – especially for senior citizens who may have a host of health issues, it is important to set aside all of your medications for a period of at least a week. Some health plans will allow for a “back up” prescription for just such a purpose. And remember to regularly update with a fresh prescription so what you have maintains its potency.

3.    Water – according to the USGS, you should set aside enough water for two weeks, assuming one gallon per person per day. If you can safely get back into the house, it is a good idea to fill the bath tub with water as well to provide an additional source.

4.    Food – canned food for two weeks and don’t forget the can opener! If the electricity is down for an extended period of time, you will want to consume what you have in the refrigerator that may spoil. During the Loma Prieta quake, electricity was down for three days which would have been long enough for things to start to spoil. One life saver for us was our propane BBQ. We took food from the freezer and cooked it over the fire and had a little civilization in the midst of the confusion. If you have camping equipment such as stoves and tents, these can also be put to good use.

5.    Clothes – it is possible that an earthquake will happen during the night or when you are in bed. Unless you sleep fully clothed, it is a good idea to keep your shoes, pants, and shirt easily accessible should you need to get outside. Before going to bed, we create a little pile of clothes and shoes on our side of the bed. If we had to exit quickly, we could easily slip them on or grab the pile and run, putting them on once out of the house. I also recommend setting outside an old heavy jacket and warm up pants as well as an old pair of shoes. Something that you would normally donate or dispose of, it does not have to be pretty. But on a cold night, you will appreciate the warmth.

6.    Miscellaneous – a few other items that you will appreciate having in case of an earthquake: flashlights with extra batteries; portable radio to keep up with the developments; fire extinguisher; crescent wrench to turn off the gas line and water main; first aid kit; pet food for the furry and feathered members of the family; a blanket;

Earthquakes are a scary thing even more so since they happen without warning. But we can take steps to prepare as best we can for their eventuality. A few steps such as those above will go a long way to assist you during what can be a difficult time. When is the best time to take care of the list – after the next earthquake? Expect the unexpected and get it done now. This New Years Resolution could save your life.

For additional pointers visit Earthquake Preparedness Guide: How to Stay Safe and Survive.

Don’t forget to pick up a free copy of Navigating the Retirement Jungle, available upon request by mailing to

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About LoveBeingRetired

Dave Bernard is a California born and raised author and blogger with an extensive 30 year career in Silicon Valley. He has written more than 300 blogs for US News & World On Retirement and his personal blog Retirement – Only the Beginning. He has authored three books: "Are you just existing and calling it a life?"; "I want to retire! Essential Considerations for the Retiree to Be"; and " Navigating the Retirement Jungle". Dave was also a contributing writer for the books 65 Things to do when you Retire (“Positive Aging – Old is the New Young”) as well as 65 Things to do when you Retire – TRAVEL (“Travel to Discover your Family Heritage”). He lives in sunny California with his wife, his Boston Terrier "Frank" and a passion for the San Jose Sharks.

2 thoughts on “Earthquake Preparedness for Senior Citizens

  1. Luckily Phoenix avoids almost all natural disasters. But, that doesn’t prevent us from having most of the items you list on hand. A failure of gas supplies would leave store shelves empty in a few days. Power failures would prevent water from being pumped or air being cooled.

    It doesn’t take an earthquake to remind us we are quite vulnerable in our way of life. Thanks fror the reminders.

  2. When we lived in California we took a large, heavy garbage can and layered it with the things you mentioned- water, then coats and shoes, flashlight and food.

    We didn’t have to use it- but it was well worth having.
    We have about the same stuff in our tornado shelter- shoes, coats, food, flashlights and a bit of $.

    Thanks for reminding me to check it again.

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