The South Napa Earthquake is a sobering reminder that the Bay Area could be hit by a devastating earthquake at any time. Are you prepared?

Prepare your earthquake kit now, so you will have it ready when it's needed. (<a href="">Earthworm/Flickr</a>)
Prepare your earthquake kit now, so you will have it ready when it’s needed. (Earthworm/Flickr)

1) Create an Earthquake Kit

Unlike hurricanes and other severe storms, earthquakes come without any notice, so it’s imperative to have a supply kit that will keep you and your family safe and comfortable if disaster strikes. You should have supplies for three days.

Necessary items:

  • first-aid kit
  • one gallon of water per person per day
  • flashlight (and extra batteries)
  • enough non-perishable food to feed each person for three days
  • a manual can opener for all that food
  • fire extinguisher

Good to haves:

  • warm clothes and sturdy shoes
  • sleeping bags or blankets
  • cash
  • tools
  • heavy-duty plastic bags and tarps
  • cell phone chargers
  • list of emergency contact numbers
  • battery operated or hand crank radio

Personal items:

  • prescriptions
  • personal hygiene items
  • personal documents
  • items for children and pets

Download the full list from You can also read it in Español, 漢語, русский and Việt.

The USGS recommends that you split those items up into personal kits that can be easily carried and are easy to reach. In a strong earthquake, debris could be strewn all over the floor. To keep your feet safe after nighttime disasters, the USGS recommends keeping a drawstring bag with a pair of sturdy shoes and a flashlight tied to the foot of your bed. The bigger items can go into a household kit that is easily movable and watertight.

Once you’ve assembled your kits it’s important to make sure that you regularly check them. Has the food expired? Has the water evaporated? How old are those painkillers? If you are someone who needs to regularly take medications, experts recommend swapping out the drugs with fresh ones every month.

2) Make a Plan

Now that you have the basics in hand to survive for three days, it’s time to make sure everyone in your household knows what to do in an emergency.

  1. Identify who are the people you’ll need to get in touch with if something happens.
  2. Identify an out-of-town contact who can serve as a hub for information if you can’t reach others in your area.
  3. Establish a meeting place. Do you know where to go if everyone is spread throughout the area at work and school? SF72 recommends picking a central park or landmark. Don’t choose a house in case it’s inaccessible.
  4. Know the locations of utility shutoffs in your home and keep needed tools nearby. Know how to turn off the gas, water and electricity; turn off the gas only if you smell or hear leaking gas.

3) Prepare Your Home

Most damage in earthquakes is caused by shaking. You can do simple and inexpensive things now to help reduce injuries and protect your belongings.

Start by moving heavy furniture, such as bookcases, away from beds, couches and other places where people sit or sleep.

Next examine where art and heavy objects hung on the wall would fall, and possibly shatter. Keep heavy art away from beds or sofas. Make sure you’re using closed hooks to keep everything on the wall.

Store heavy items and breakables, like wine glasses, on lower shelves. You can also use earthquake putty, museum wax or quake gel on the bottoms of collectibles, pottery and lamps to keep them from falling.

Secure the top corners of tall furniture into a wall stud, not just drywall. You can use flexible-mount fasteners, such as nylon straps, to allow furniture to sway independently from the wall, reducing the strain on studs.

Learn More

If you’re a home owner, you can take the USGS’ quiz to see what kind of retrofits your home may need. Houses and apartments that are older and taller are more prone to damage. Find out the kind of earth you’re on as well. Liquefaction and land slide zones can pose their own types of problems.

Also, find specific resources in your county:

Alameda County

Contra Costa County

Marin County

Napa County

San Francisco County

San Mateo County

Santa Clara County

Solano County

Sonoma County

How to Prepare for the Bay Area’s Next Earthquake 9 January,2015Lisa Pickoff-White

  • Deb

    Don’t forget cash (ATMs and credit cards won’t be working) and keep the gas tank at least 1/4 full.

  • Denise DuBois

    Great article! But what about a crowbar under your bed to pry open your door or the door to your kids’ rooms? And how do you know the safest places to be inside your own particular house? Also, are you home 24/7? If so, do you know how to turn off your gas to prevent a fire? If you’re not home 24/7, do you have an automatic gas shut-off valve installed? Not sure you can secure all those heavy appliances and furniture properly yourself? Contact for in-home consults including retrofit inspection, furniture and appliance securing, and emergency kits and automatic gas shut off valves. 707-965-3299

  • inballast

    I try to keep my automobile fuel tank at or above the half-full level. If electrical power is interrupted after an earthquake, gas pumps will not work until power is restored, which may be a long while.

    • gregghierholzer

      makes you wonder about all those folks with electric cars. Guess Teslsa’s wouldn’t be so grand after they run out of juice. 🙂

  • jatbros

    Might want to move from California.. That’s what I did 28 years ago.. Adios…

  • Carol

    If you are on the west coast, think twice about installing instant hot water. I have a water heater tank with 75 gallons of hot water that can be a source of water when the water lines break in an earthquake. Be sure yours is strapped to a stud wall. After hurricane Sandy, an elderly woman nearly died of dehydration after 3 days without water. She did not realize that the water in the tank (not bowl) of her toilet was potable.

  • Merikn trst fighter

    Guns, LOTS OF GUNS


Lisa Pickoff-White

Lisa Pickoff-White is KQED’s data reporter. Lisa specializes in simplifying complex topics and bringing them to life through compelling visuals, including photography and data visualizations. She previously has worked at the Center for Investigative Reporting and other national outlets. Her work has been honored with awards from the Online News Association, Investigative Reporters and Editors, the Society of Professional Journalists and SXSW Interactive.  Follow: @pickoffwhite Email:

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