Masami Yamamoto had good intentions when he packed up his family and left his native Japan. An engineer, Yamamoto was concerned about the disastrous effects a massive earthquake would have on the high-density population of Tokyo.
To escape the potential danger, he moved his family halfway around the world, forsaking earthquake-prone Japan for the safety of . . . Southern California.
That was 11 years ago, and living in the city of Orange since his arrival in the United States has done little to ease Yamamoto's fear of the Big One. He commutes 150 miles a day, carrying in his car a backpack containing a first-aid kit, Swiss army knife and other emergency items.
"I saw a television show on PBS recently, and the commentator said that if a devastating earthquake hits Los Angeles, it could take five days to get from Northridge to L.A.," said Yamamoto, who is vice president and general manager of Chatsworth-based JAM Trading Inc., an industrial equipment import-export company.
The engineer's preoccupation with temblors spurred his imagination. What would be the most precious commodity in the event of a killer quake, he thought. His answer was easy.
"Without food, you could survive maybe a month," he said. "But without water . . . "
Bottled water, Yamamoto decided, was too difficult to store in quantities and keeping it fresh could be a problem. After considering the products available on the market and finding them wanting, Yamamoto decided to invent his own.
The result is the Quake Quencher, a 55-gallon water storage tank designed for emergency use.
Made of polyethylene, the Quake Quencher works in conjunction with common sprinkler systems. The tank is connected to a half-inch sprinkler head via an inlet tube. When the sprinkler system is run for five minutes a day, it sends 1 to 2 gallons of fresh water to the tank. An outlet tube cycles the same amount of water out of the tank, meaning that the water has been completely recycled in about 30 days.
The Quake Quencher retails for $179.
Ironically, there are no plans to market the product in Japan.
"The sprinkler systems are not popular in Japan," he said with a shrug of his shoulders.
In the future, the inventive engineer hopes to devise other products useful in emergency situations, from a collapsible, motorized scooter to a low-cost, safe glider.
Mick Carroll, vice-president of the Long Beach-based Emergency Products Division of MCM Consulting Inc., drives around with a more elaborate survival kit in his car. His firm distributes the CDI Emergency Kit, which he says is the only battery-free emergency kit in the country.
Containing 102 items, the CDI package was developed by ex-military veterans together with executives from the Red Cross in Santa Monica. In addition to a 58-piece first-aid kit and a 17-function army knife, other key components include an advanced technology AM/FM solar radio with alternate dynamo/electric power--a fancy term for manual winding--and a solar flashlight with built-in, rechargeable power storage.
"The radio and flashlight were specially developed for the kit," Carroll said. "Six months went into the package's research and design, and the result is all that's necessary for total survival."
The CDI Emergency Kit weighs 15 pounds and retails for $149.95. According to Carroll, it would cost more than twice that amount if consumers were to purchase all the items on their own--with the radio and flashlight unavailable anywhere else.
Within its first year of availability, the kit has been purchased by such organizations as the Army, the Veterans Administration, Chevron USA, Columbia Pictures and even the Garden Grove and Palm Springs Unified school districts.
Yoram Yahav, president of Santa Monica-based Countertrade Development International, a worldwide trade and barter company, was inspired to develop the CDI kit after weathering several California earthquakes and seeing the devastation caused by other natural disasters around the world.
"No one really knows where he'll be should a big earthquake hit," Yahav said. "If it comes at night, people probably will not have the convenience of their closets, clothing and supplies.
"If they survive, then the emergency kit protected beneath their beds or in the trunk of their cars will be ready for them. For minimal effort, time, and some money, people can be prepared to save lives, apply first aid, create temporary structures, dig and saw through debris, have light . . . keep warm, stay informed and make living through a disaster more bearable."
Yahav knows of where he speaks. He credits his personal emergency kit with saving his life when he was a soldier in the Israeli army.
Yahav himself has kits in his home, office, garage and each of his cars. By doing so, he says, he's practicing his own theory of probability.
"There are analyses and statistics that have been done, but the truth is no one really knows when it will happen, or where they'll be," Yahav said.