should I stay or should I go?
September 28, 2005 12:42 AM   Subscribe

I live in LA (the city) which is apparently the third and final nightmare scenario that FEMA and Homeland Security were supposed to be able to plan for and deal with. What I suspected, I now know...when the big one hits, it's everyman for himself and with a population of almost 20 million people things will get bad fast. So what is the sensible thing to do? Try to leave? hunker down and wait? where can I go and get reliable advice?
posted by ronenosity to Human Relations (24 answers total)
i live in SF (the city) which i thought was the third and final predicted nightmare scenario, but let's not compete. anyway, i've been considering the same stuff, and i think if you follow the basic red cross advice for preparations, you're probably ahead in the game. you can't plan for everything, but the main priorities i've considered are (1) emergency supplies/rations (2) escape options on foot and (3) out-of-town contacts. i've been thinking about getting friends emergency kits as xmas gifts (surprising how few people have them set up), and have been considering an emergency/evacuation friend network. in san francisco, the fire department offers everyone community disaster management training, and it looks like they have something similar in LA.
posted by troybob at 1:21 AM on September 28, 2005

If you stayed, you might be OK or you and your family might be, oh, I don't know, ripped to shreds by crazed semihumans. Assuming a city-wide catastrophe that destroys much of the infrastructure, I would want to get out and stay out until I knew everything was secure.

Your survival tactic should be to just head directly away from the city as quickly as possible and to stay far away, maybe a couple of states away. Let your place burn to the ground. Unless you're dumb, you don't own anything big that your insurance does not cover, so forget staying and defending stuff.

You should live near the limits of the train or bus line. During normal times, you will be able to use public transportation to get into and out of the city. When the disaster comes, every meter you are farther from the center is a meter of perhaps difficult terrain that you won't have to cross to get away from the mass of people running from the city or running wild in the city.

Your survival kit should be the standard first aid kit, food, and water. Pack for walking -- pack for running, if possible -- store stuff in a back pack (one per resident of your household, including larger kids) that will take you a couple of seconds to put on and run with.
posted by pracowity at 2:45 AM on September 28, 2005

The wind blows onshore 99% of the time. Wouldn't it be a good idea to steal a boat and head seaward, then south or north if someone had unleashed an NBC with a path of destruction based on prevailing winds?
posted by planetkyoto at 3:04 AM on September 28, 2005

Consider the nightmare of the disaster happening while you are at work, family is elsewhere. I lived out there , so I've thought about this. I've been thinking about this especially much since the Katrina disaster.
posted by Goofyy at 3:16 AM on September 28, 2005

> Wouldn't it be a good idea to steal a boat...

Boats might be hard to get if everyone is trying to escape. Also, you could be shot for stealing a boat.

I would go for a land route. Assuming you aren't injured and there are no gigantic obstacles, you could walk out of the city and be on your way to safety in a short time. If there are giant obstacles or you have injured yourself, well, you're no worse off than if you intended to take a boat.

> happening while you are at work, family is elsewhere.

That's a huge problem. If everyone's old enough to travel alone, plan to meet at home if home is on the way from work and school to the escape route, or plan to meet at Aunt Matilda's in Ohio. If there are little kids involved, agree which one picks up which kids and where you will go after, but you'll probably freak out if the phones don't work and you aren't sure that the other parent got to the school. Try to leave messages at the schools when you pick up kids, or maybe just wait at the school for the other parent so you can all go away together.

(Is there an emergency system for cell phones? Like, could the United States keep a couple of planes ready that would provide emergency cell phone service to a city that has lost communications? I'm sure you could arrange an emergency switchover protocol with phone companies, something that would limit each caller's time (to help control the load) and that would include a way for authorities to make broadcasts over cell phones.)
posted by pracowity at 3:45 AM on September 28, 2005

Get a street legal dirt bike and ride it to work. It can second as a "get ma ass outta town" bike. You can try to plan a route but you never know what can happen so be prepared to go another way. And get a gun. If you're comfortable with that.
posted by recurve at 3:56 AM on September 28, 2005

Make sure the building in which you dwell, and if possible, the one in which you work, is up to code. There are something like 8,000 high rise apartment buildings in SF alone that will not withstand a big earthquake. You don't want to be living in any of them when the Big One happens.

Also, and this is thinking bigger than your own self-interest, lobby your city's government to shore up the fire department. Fire is going to be a much more serious danger than the actual quake, and cities on the fault line need to be prepared.

After Katrina I started thinking about cities that live in danger zones, and I read up on San Francisco, shaking my head the entire while. Human beings are too optimistic for their own good sometimes. It's only when we live in the shade of a recent disaster that we make sure there are enough lifeboats.
posted by orange swan at 5:42 AM on September 28, 2005

Hmmm... everybody is thinking about this now. I found a really intelligent discussion going on over at DailyKos. Here's the link to the search page I found for all five parts of a series discussing Are You Ready For A Disaster? I highly recommend reading this.

Not only is the series very well thought out and detailed, written by a guy who is experienced in risk assessment and disaster-readiness planning in his professional capacity, but the comments at the end of each diary segment are rich with additional ideas.

I've printed out all five of the pieces. I'll be implementing my own disaster plan based in large part by the suggestions I found.
posted by Corky at 6:11 AM on September 28, 2005

Stewart Brand's discussion of the SF earthquake aftermath was one of the best articles on disaster preparedness I've read. It was in the Whole Earth Review. It needs to be online, but it isn't.

I would get a bmw/enduro and a tactical shotgun. And some clothes that look like the post-apocalyptic biker in Raising Arizona.

But seriously, a motorcycle makes so much sense, looking at those 100 mile traffic jams. Until some bitter refugee doors you. A bicycle would be faster than a trapped car, and be more useful while the rest of us have begun scrabbling for gasoline in our Road Warrior-ified future.
posted by craniac at 6:52 AM on September 28, 2005

Having just come back from the disaster zones, I'm thinking about this too. Things we needed, besides non perishable food and lots of water: gas cans, w gas. Antibacterial products. Rugged clothes. Flashlights. Shortwave radio. Adaptors to charge your phone and laptop and what have you off a car battery. (There's a nifty gizmo called Juice that goes into the car lighter and you buy separate plugs to charge everything, even an ipod.) I thought of arming myself with pepper spray as a weapon but never got any, or needed it.
(Also, girly emergency supplies in the face of no running water: face wipes, baby wipes, mouthwash and those toothbrushing replacing "brush up" things.)
If well prepared, you can hunker down for several days until the roads are clear. Lay in far more water than you think you need. Then go get even more.
posted by CunningLinguist at 7:10 AM on September 28, 2005

Getting out is best done prior to disaster hitting. Since we can not yet predict earthquakes I think you stay. Whether your dwelling survived sufficiently to withstand the aftershocks would be a concern though. Keep plenty of food and water on hand, both at work and at home. Batteries, radios and flashlights as well as first aid supplies would be nice. I am no gun advocate, but I think you would be happy to have one in such a situation.
posted by caddis at 7:14 AM on September 28, 2005

Whoa cowboys. Let's think about "the Big One" in LA or SF as compared to that of NO. After the ground stops shaking (and reshaking from aftershocks) and the gas lines have been shut off, what is the real problem. There isn't going to be flooding. As long as you stay away from unsafe structures, the damage is pretty much done. If your house made it, then stay, or not, it's up to you and the situation. New Orleans is now filled with a lovely gumbo of sewerage, chemical plant run off and river slime, SF and LA will not have these issues.
posted by Pollomacho at 7:22 AM on September 28, 2005

i live in NYC after living in Houston for 8 years. hearing my friends' evacuation stories from Rita, i've realized that should NYC have to evacuate (god help us), biking will be faster (and more flexible route-wise) than any other sort of public or private transportation. i can't bike super-fast, but i certainly can go 20 miles in less than 12 hours (real-life evacuation story).
posted by unknowncommand at 7:55 AM on September 28, 2005

Make a plan.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 8:11 AM on September 28, 2005

Pollomacho — I don't think that's right. Once the ground stops shaking and the gas lines are shut off, the city may still be on fire. There will still be food supply problems, broken water mains, blackouts, looting, and so on. It may not be as absolutely unlivable as New Orleans has become, but it won't be pleasant.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:48 AM on September 28, 2005

It would take four or five days to walk out of metro Los Angeles and what would getting out do for you?

My experience of disasters; Los Angeles in 1971 and San Francisco in 1989 is that people are much kinder and less selfish than they are normally.
posted by rdr at 9:43 AM on September 28, 2005

What nebulawindphone said. After Loma Prieta, parts of San Francisco were without water services for more than a month. When the big one hits, and the levees on the Sacramento River delta are broken, the San Francisco bay area will be without running water for probably three months before it's fixed. Yes, water will be trucked in eventually, but if you have the space (and assuming your home survives the earthquake, and doesn't burn down afterward), having a week's worth of water per person (plus any pets) is a good idea.

If I lived in LA, I'd think about keeping emergency supplies (food+water for three days, a change of clothes, a first-aid kit, maybe a sleeping bag) in my car. There are neighborhood groups out here that are trying to organize for major disasters- if you're worried about it being every man for himself, helping make sure your neighbors all have emergency supplies might make everyone a bit calmer.
posted by ambrosia at 9:51 AM on September 28, 2005

Fire: "The 3-day conflagration following the earthquake caused substantially more damage than did the earthquake. The area of the burned district covered 4.7 square mile."
posted by kirkaracha at 10:01 AM on September 28, 2005

Um, that's about the 1906 earthquake and fire.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:02 AM on September 28, 2005

Considering the number of people in Los Angeles who, even at the best of times, have issues regarding lost marbles, and also the number of people in Los Angeles who wield firearms, I would suggest packing a scary-looking gun and a box of ammo in with your disaster kit.
posted by soiled cowboy at 11:03 PM on September 28, 2005

I'm a newcomer to LA and this question has been on my mind, too. My opinion is that you should stay in place and hunker down, and not try to leave the city--but only if you stock up on supplies first, for both your home and your car. Cause we all know that Angelenos practically live in their cars...

First of all, most of the city would be majorly fucked in a bad earthquake. The Valley is almost entirely built on material that shifts and liquifies during earthquakes; see also the effects of the Northridge earthquake. My husband was born and grew up here, had to move out of his (Valley) family home for over a year while they bolted the house and fixed all the damage, and he still points out all the many re-built commercial buildings on Ventura Boulevard that crumbled and/or burned. Really, only those mansions in the Hollywood Hills (a.k.a. Santa Monica Mountains) that are also bolted to the bedrock and are not crazy stilt houses are likely to be safe from damage in The Big One, and they'll still have to contend with the passages into the hills likely being cut off. Look at what happened just from those mudslides last year: Laurel Canyon took over six months to fully re-open!

And that's just dealing with the physical effects of a quake, not the social effects. Five days without food or water, and your neighborhood is burning from after-fires, and I don't doubt that there would be people smashing into the local Ralph's supermarket real quick. Let's just say this city doesn't have a real good track record with regards to social order and neighborliness. I'm sorry, I know that's an uncomfortable thing to say, but after hearing reports about what happened in NOLA after Katrina...

And unlike New York, leaving Los Angeles would take a damn long time even on motorcycle, nevermind bike or on foot. The city doesn't really have a center, per se (downtown is mostly empty come 7 PM on weeknights), just a whole lotta sprawl. And where would you go if you did leave--the OC? Walking/biking out to the arid semi-deserts of Ventura and Riverside Counties? With the traffic we've got commuting out there on normal days? No, thank you.

So, I decided that unless our house is really really messed up--it was built in 1939 but it's been updated a few times and the foundation has been bolted to bedrock--we're staying. Hunkering down, defending ourselves and our property, helping out the neighbors, and trying to keep our little piece of the Valley from falling apart completely. And dammit, we just got here! I don't wanna leave my new home! Which brings me to this point...

Unless you're dumb, you don't own anything big that your insurance does not cover, so forget staying and defending stuff.

Not true. Most homeowners' insurance, unless you specifically ask for the rare type that covers it, does not cover damage caused by riots, civil disturbances, nuclear accidents, or terrorism. My husband and I bought this house (and the associated homeowner's and earthquake insurance policies) in Los Angeles less than two months ago and I was quite disturbed to learn this while reading through the fine print.
posted by Asparagirl at 11:34 PM on September 28, 2005

Walking slowly, 3 mph, would get you 30 miles or more in a day, 60 or more in two days. And that's where I would want to be two days after LA melts down -- at least 60 miles from the center. I would hitch a ride if I had to or I'd just keep walking until I get to somewhere with clean water and electricity and law and order.

As for insurance coverage: you get what you pay for. Did you read the contract before or after you signed?
posted by pracowity at 5:58 AM on September 29, 2005

pracowity, we are talking about The Big One. Sixty miles, ninety miles away from the epicenter are almost certainly going to suffer severe damage. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake (estimated at 7.9 on the Richter scale) caused visible damage along the San Andreas fault for 290 miles. The epicenter of Loma Prieta (a mere 7.1, I might add) was 70 miles from San Francisco, and we still had bridges and double-decker highways collapse. If you have small children, thirty miles a day likely isn't an option. Not to mention that in Los Angeles, sixty miles doesn't necessarily even get you out of the greater metropolitan area.

Speaking as someone who used to work for an insurance company, the exclusions asparagirl mentioned are industry standard in the United States. Try asking to get those things covered, and they will laugh you out of their office.

So I'm with asparagirl. We've bolted and reinforced everything we can, and unless the neighborhood goes up in flames, we're staying, even if it means camping in a tent in the yard.
posted by ambrosia at 7:43 AM on September 29, 2005

There was a 2003 prediction of a 67% chance of a 6.7+ earthquake in the SF Bay Area by 2032. Also likely (approaching certainty in the long term, of course) is a big one on the New Madrid fault (from Illinois through Missouri to Arkansas, where they largely haven't had the earthquake awareness and retrofitting California has -- the area was sparsely populated in 1812 when it had its last release.) Here are some fun articles from the East Bay Express on what would happen in a big SF Bay Area quake.

In general, I'd say you should have the supplies to hunker down, but also have an evacuation plan if your neighborhood's going up in flames.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 12:50 PM on September 30, 2005

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