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Southland Smugness Toward Temblors Doesn't Shake Survival Kit's Marketers

October 01, 1985|BEVERLY BEYETTE | Times Staff Writer

Selling earthquake survival kits, Roberta Goldfeder has learned, is "like selling funeral plots. You're not the most popular guy in the world."

She and Janet Kugel, both licensed vocational nurses, are partners with Gladys Jacques, a registered nurse, in the year-old "Extend-A-Life" Products and Services for Survival.

Having distributed about 5,000 brochures and talked to just about anyone who would listen about the importance of being prepared, Goldfeder, Kugel and Jacques figured a big shake was the only thing that would wake people up.

In the wake of the recent disastrous temblors that struck Mexico, they braced for business at their Pasadena headquarters. "We anticipated the phones wouldn't stop," Goldfeder said. They waited. And waited. And they're still waiting.

Reports of the devastation in Mexico City apparently haven't jolted many Southern Californians out of their complacency. What preparation advocates are dealing with, Goldfeder said, is the Californian philosophy: "Get up each day, hope the sun shines, get in the car, drive to work, come home and sit in the Jacuzzi."

Kugel reasoned, "A lot of people are frightened and their way of dealing with it is to forget about it."

At presentations, Goldfeder said, "We've had everybody sitting on the edge of their seats." But then, she said, most will rationalize that "they have a few canned goods in the house and some Band-Aids and a can opener--electric, of course--so they think they're prepared."

Kit Includes the Essentials

Two months ago Extend-A-Life began marketing its family survival pack: a sturdy 32-pound cardboard box containing the essentials--food, water and medical supplies--for a family of four to survive without outside resources for 72 hours. The pack costs $299.

It's an idea that came to Kugel soon after she moved to California from Minnesota in 1971, just after the Sylmar earthquake. She went into a pharmacy looking for just that kind of kit. "I thought surely if they have earthquakes here every day, there must be something of that sort," she said. Finding nothing, she put a similar kit together for her family.

Kugel had been awakened to the potential for natural disasters two years earlier when she and her son were "almost killed in a tornado (in Michigan) that took the barn right off and took the animals but we were miraculously spared."

Goldfeder grew up at Rockaway Beach, N.Y., where "people imagined there was an earthquake out here every five minutes, just like we here think everyone who rides a subway gets mugged." As an Easterner, she was no stranger to the September hurricane season and, as a nurse, had worked on Red Cross disaster teams. She was also a survivor of seven hours in a subway during the 1965 Manhattan blackout and remembers the chaos that gripped the city.

Kugel and Goldfeder are working mothers and their primary concern is the safety of families at home in the event of a big quake--especially latchkey children.

By design, the founders did not put the word "earthquake" in Extend-A-Life's name, their reasoning being that the organization might want to expand its market nationally at some point to include people living in tornado and hurricane country.

But in Southern California, "natural disaster" preparedness is virtually synonymous with earthquake readiness. "We're not talking about nuclear war," Kugel said.

"To tell people that to survive a nuclear holocaust just takes a box that weighs 32 pounds would just blow our credibility," Goldfeder said.

Extend-A-Life will take its message and kits to Pasadena Plaza mall Saturday and Sunday as part of this week's observance of Women's Health Awareness Week, which will include 13 health fairs at shopping malls and public sites countywide.

Now, just exactly what is a family survival pack?

Packed by the handicapped at the New Opportunity Workshop in Pasadena, the kit includes an instruction cassette, step-by-step procedures for safeguarding a house and its occupants and a form for listing important family data such as medical plan numbers, school telephone numbers and insurance policy numbers.

Said Kugel: "If you don't have all this information in one spot when your house is down, you may have a difficult time trying to retrieve it."

There are medical release forms for minor children and a page of instructions (as well as a wrench) for turning off the gas, electricity and water. And there is a booklet, "Earthquake Preparedness," put together by Libby Lafferty of Creative Home Economic Services in La Canada. Suggestions range from assignments for each family member to dealing with frightened pets.

The top tray of the pack is partially for the owner's special needs. "We've heard everything from shotguns to vodka," Goldfeder said. "If you can't live a day without your vitamin tablets, you put them in there." There are also "pre-disaster preparedness" items such as two five-gallon water containers.

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