It's been nearly a year since a 7.1 temblor rumbled beneath the streets and homes of Northern California. For those living in Southern California, it was a grim preview of what might occur here. One of the most memorable TV images at the time was the San Francisco policeman walking through the destruction of the Mission District, bellowing orders like a preacher delivering a sermon: "Prepare for 72 hours without services. Store water. Turn off the gas. There are only 90 minutes of daylight. Don't just stand there."
These last-minute exhortations have been preached by disaster relief agencies for years. Some say it can be hours or even days before relief organizations are able to provide shelter for the newly homeless or distribute emergency supplies, food and water to the needy. In really devastated areas, it can take up 72 hours for help to arrive. This is why people must be able to take care of themselves.
"We have a lot to be worried about in terms of the potential for a major earthquake," says Evelyn Tribole, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Assn. "If the freeways are knocked out, it may be hard for people to get to the grocery store." She believes it is imperative for consumers to have a separate food supply containing items the family likes, provided that the food is occasionally rotated into the regular family meals. "Food is the one thing that can bring you together in time of disaster."
Andrew Rose, internal affairs associate for the American Red Cross Bay Area, disagrees on the importance of storing food at home. He says that supermarket warehouse supplies of food are sufficient to meet the needs of the public during "moderate-size events." In fact, as long as evacuation isn't necessary, Rose cautions that warehousing too much food can be "dangerous."
"Everybody concurs that there should be food on hand," Rose says. "It's a good idea to keep (adequate) pantry supplies. But when you stockpile, you generally don't rotate and (food) goes bad. There are other items that are definitely more important during an earthquake."
These items include flashlights, a first-aid kit, portable radios, fire extinguisher, alternative means of cooking, plastic trash bags, gloves and spare batteries.
Still, food is a necessity. A surplus of non-perishables and water can be kept in the kitchen pantry, as some suggest, or stored compactly in an easy-to-access location. Either option will allow a family to select meals that are fresh and safe and can be eaten anywhere with a minimum of time, equipment, energy and water.
Water should be the first priority. This essential liquid (humans can survive longer without food than without water) is often called the forgotten nutrient, Tribole says. But "in times of survival, water becomes very precious." Earthquakes often break water lines, leaving water supplies contaminated; so a minimum of half a gallon per-day per-family member is suggested for drinking and food preparation. Another half gallon is recommended for washing dishes and personal hygiene--bathing, brushing teeth, etc.
Although water stored in clean, airtight plastic containers usually is safe to drink indefinitely, it should be changed occasionally. Avoid metal containers, which can give it an unpleasant taste. Check reserves regularly for leaks and cloudiness.
Base the amount of food set aside on the daily needs of each family member. The Four Food Group Plan is a useful tool for estimating this intake. In general, allow two cups of milk daily for adults, four cups for children; two servings of meat, eggs, peas, beans and nuts daily; five servings of fruits and vegetables; and four servings of breads and cereals.
Emergency food reserves should be stored in water-resistant and airtight containers. The area should be dark and dry, with a temperature of 70 degrees or less, suggests the University of California Cooperative Extension booklet, "A Food Plan for Emergencies." The lower temperature will increase shelf life. Dampness can cause cans to rust.
For easy storage, keep supplies in a box, basket, tub or plastic can. They can be placed under a table near the front door for a quick exit ". . . just in case the whole kitchen is wiped out," Tribole says. There should be sufficient space for cooking and serving supplies such as pans, non-electric can and bottle openers, plastic cutlery, paper plates, cups and napkins, a measuring cup and matches.
Although canned goods will usually keep for a long time, they should be replaced twice yearly to ensure good color, flavor and appearance. Items in paper must be replenished every three months.