Go bag grab bag: SF edition
November 10, 2014 11:35 AM   Subscribe

Bug out plans for San Francisco in an emergency?

I'd like to ask the San Francisco version of this question.

Suppose you live a quiet life in central SF (let's call it NOPA, just picking a centralish nabe). Suppose this life was interrupted with CATASTROPHE! How would you escape the city on foot?

Let's assume for this scenario it's the next big earthquake, but I'm happy for answers to consider other non-earthquake factors (i.e. does a tsunami necessarily rule out ferries in the bay as an escape route option?). I am assuming that for the earthquake scenario that the GG and Bay Bridges, as well as BART, would be immediately shut down (correct?). Going south seems like the pat answer, but all of our family / friends are in Marin or points further north (Sacramento, etc.) so we would really need to get north at some point without going too far south.

Bonus points: dog-friendly considerations.
posted by allkindsoftime to Grab Bag (19 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Well, they just rebuilt the damn Bay Bridge to survive such things. Of course they did it wrong. If you want to go to Marin, head to the nearest marina and try to catch a ride with one of the sailors. Bring money or silver.
posted by jeffamaphone at 11:38 AM on November 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

so we would really need to get north at some point without going too far south

Unless you know someone with a private boat (side note: there are lots of people in the area with private boats, but not generally in the City) you'll have to go south.

Also I would head toward Pacifica rather than the airport because less infrastructure means less chance of manmade materials creating dangerous conditions.
posted by psoas at 11:52 AM on November 10, 2014

Best answer: As a person who is expert in disaster recovery, and who has worked with FEMA and the American Red Cross, as well as living through the Loma Prieta Earthquake and Hurricane Andrew....I have opinions.

It depends on a few things.

1. Is your place habitable? Not perfect, habitable. If it is. Stay put. Do not light candles (gas). But have Flashlights, a radio, and plenty of batteries. Have provisions that are shelf stable. Most folks keep them on hand and rotate them. Canned foods, pet food, water.

2. If your place is NOT habitable, you will need to seek shelter. Don't bother trying to call people on your cell phone or a land line. Bag that. Text people. Text will get through even if your central office is wiped out (we learned this in Katrina.) Keep a charge on your phone, invest in a solar charger, and have a phone charger handy. Call friends nearby, if their place is habitable, go there with your dog and as many provisions as you can carry. Get a rolly suitcase if you have to so you can take water and cans.

3. If you have to, find out where a likely shelter would be in your area. A local school, church or even a fire station might do. Large public buildings might do. As would hotel lobbies. Make friends with your neighbors. Figure this out BEFORE you need to know.

4. Take any medications you, family members or pets will need. Lots of shelters won't take animals, so suss out one that will and HAUL ASS to it once an emergency has been declared.

5. Bring anything special that you'd need that the Red Cross or city emergency workers can't provide. A bedroll is good, your medications in their bottles (don't let any prescriptions get down to just a couple of pills,) a few rolls of toilet paper.

6. Upload all important papers to the cloud. Your birth cerificate, passport, driver's license, insurance policies, your animals vaccination records, marriage certificates, et. al. Also, have all of these important papers in a large, ziploc bag ready to snatch and take with you.

7. Re-fuel your car before it gets to half a tank.

8. Have about $100 in cash on you at all times.

9. Know where the gas shut off valve on your structure is, know how to turn it off. If you smell natural gas, gather your stuff and get out of the area.

10. Take some clothing and toiletries with you. Comfortable, useful stuff. Leave your ballgowns and perfume at home.

How's that for a start?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:57 AM on November 10, 2014 [45 favorites]

If there's a catastrophe, you'd hope the city was transporting people out of the city so you wouldn't need to do it on foot.

In a disaster scenario, the bridges will likely be shut down. At least I'd think so. Even if they don't collapse, I imagine they will be blocked off. You'll have to go south. If you have family north in places like Sacramento, they may need to go for a drive and pick you up, or you may need to rent a car and go to them by way of the San Jose area.

I think your time and energy is best spent on having a plan to survive a disaster. Have a survival kit with bottled water and a flashlight. Food stores if you get trapped. Maybe one of those emergency radios that you can hand crank. Some of those can charge your cell phone (albeit slowly). They sell survival kits. Make sure you know how to turn off the gas if an earthquake happens. Make sure your furniture is secured into the wall and you're using museum wax or something to keep objects from falling on you. Make sure you know what to do in the event of an earthquake.

Tsunamis are apparently unlikely in San Francisco because the types of earthquakes that happen in the Pacific are not the kind that tend to produce tidal waves. But that's another set of guidelines and survival things to be concerned about. Again, a hurricane is very unlikely to land in San Fransisco because of the conditions there, but it's possible. I guess your planning for a tsunami and a hurricane would be relatively similar.
posted by AppleTurnover at 12:03 PM on November 10, 2014

Have you looked at 72hours.org or anything by the Neighborhood Emergency Response Teams?

I guess the question is what are you accomplishing by moving? Being on foot may not be safe and a large enough disaster will have affected the entire region.
posted by oneear at 12:03 PM on November 10, 2014

If you need an easy way to find south, Mission runs north-south with downtown being north. It runs all the way past San Jose, and you can bike the whole thing. If you can bike it, you can walk it. My plan for leaving the city on foot has always been to just follow Mission.
posted by blnkfrnk at 12:04 PM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: So, assumptions made: Your abode becomes unliveable, you (and three quarters of a million other people) need to get to Marin or Sacramento? (If this hasn't been pitched as a Kurt Russell film yet, I want dibs...)

And the bridges are down (this one hell of a disaster, because as jeffamaphone noted the eastern half of the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge approaches were just rebuilt to address this scenario). And you can't shelter in place, nor are other shelters available (presumably because huge fire, which you managed to escape, or tsunami swamped everything, or earthquake levelled pretty much a 50 mile radius).

It's worth your time to read through the Californa Emergency Management Agency Catastrophic Planning resources, I'd start with the "San Francisco Bay Area Earthquake Readiness Response Plan - September 2008" PDF.

The ferries are a part of that plan and are likely to still be running, the plan notes that pulling in ferries from Puget Sound and Los Angeles/Long Beach is an option, but will likely take more than 3 days. If you can get off the peninsula, Sacramento is 2, maybe 3 days of cycling (1 if you're strong and not towing a trailer with a dog in it, but...), depending on the routes; the big question is: with a quake large enough to take down the Bay Bridge, how will the roads look like from SF to Sacramento, and which of those will be open to bicycles (ie: Are they gonna say "anything goes" on I80?).

Private boats are indeed an option, but consider whether your boat mooring would survive your scenario of choice (ie: tsunami and a boat in that marina up near Fort Mason are probably not compatible, something down near Redwood City might be). I haven't been out near the 'Gate in a kayak, it can get pretty rough in a 26' sailboat and my friends with a 34' wood cabin cruiser stick to the inside of Alcatraz and pay attention to the tides when they're headed down to Oakland, but an ABS paddled boat may be your best compromise of "store it somewhere else, resilient to damage, able to cross the Bay".

Mostly I'm with Ruthless Bunny: Prepare for the smaller stuff, take a CERT class, keep 20-40 gallons in addition to your hot water heater (and talk with your neighbors who have a pool for flushing water, and consider a good backpacking or similar filter pump), don't let your gas tank drop below ½ full, and get a good dialog going with your neighbors.
posted by straw at 12:04 PM on November 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Depending on where in Marin your family is, they may be better off coming to you if tsunamis are the problem - see this map of tsunami evacuation zones (it may throw a scripting error box at you, but it ended up loading fine for me).

If When we have the Very Big Earthquake here, a tsunami is unlikely to be among our problems. And if a tsunami *is* among our problems, it is most likely to be because of a Very Big Earthquake (or landslide, above or underwater) in Alaska or Japan. In which case, you won't have to bug out of SF; you'll just need to get out/stay out of the tsunami evacuation zones in the city.

But there are a lot of variables in your question and we could what-if riff for days on it. Read up on the local disaster preparedness links in this thread, and make meetup plans with friends and family.

My short answer: If, weirdly, the city of San Francisco was so wrecked by catastrophe (but the surrounding area was somehow better off?) and the bridges were down, I'd put on my best walking shoes and pack a bag with need-to-have stuff, and head south, sticking on or near to El Camino or higher up, along the ridge line that 280 south runs along (aka the San Andreas fault!).
posted by rtha at 12:10 PM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

There will be inches to feet of broken glass.

You will want good shoes and BOOTIES for your dog (like the ones used when hiking in the mountains w/ your dog)

Also get a Bike w/ replacement tubes, and patches.

I recommend joining the SF NERT program which helps SF people plan for the big earthquake.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 12:25 PM on November 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'd stay in SF personally, everyone else around there is armed. And the infrastructure outside the city sucks compared to inside. The only thing you're going to run out of is fresh water so learn to make a still and kick back and wait for someone to rescue you.
posted by fshgrl at 12:47 PM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Definitely recommend doing the NERT training and reading through 72hours.org and other links as above, if you're interested in the specifics of earthquake survival in SF.

The more direct answer to how does one get out of SF if the bridges are down, especially if you want to go north, is by boat. The bay is ringed with marinas, and SF's north shore in particular has several marinas and yacht clubs. Either you find someone willing to transport you to Marin, or your friends in Marin find someone who will come to get you. As happened in Manhattan after Sept 11, it's pretty likely that small craft owners will step up to evacuate/transport people as needed.

There are plans in place (as linked above) for the ferries to be pressed into service moving people, and that's certainly what happened in 1989 when the Bay Bridge was out, although there was no need to evacuate people; it was just getting people to and from work and so on.
posted by gingerbeer at 12:51 PM on November 10, 2014

Best answer: Your first consideration should be where you're going to bug out to. Then you need to figure out how long it's going to take for you to get there - the absolute best way to do this is to actually try walking the route, with your dog, that you're expecting to have to take. Then figure out a different route you can take to get there, again trying it with your dog. This is so you have a backup in case the earthquake has destroyed the bridge you were hoping to cross, or whatever.

You need to try actually using the route to ensure that it's usable. Looking at maps is great, but maps can't tell you the general level of your (and your dog's fitness). If your BOL is 25 miles away, you need to be able to actually get those 25 miles completed on shank's pony. You might get lucky and be able to use a bike or car, but you also have to have those things available, and you're also relying on roads to ride them on being open. That might not be the case after an earthquake. Also, your dog cannot ride a bike. If you have to carry the dog on the bike, consider the extra weight you're going to have to pedal along.

The only NOPA that shows up in San Francisco is a restaurant, so I'm using that as a start point, and Marin County CA as an end point (hopefully these are the places you meant). Google Maps shows the fastest driving route as being US-101 and Lucas Valley Rd, taking 37 miles and about an hour to drive. Not too bad, unless the Golden Gate bridge is un-crossable. The next option is to take I-580 W, adding an extra 10 miles, toll points and an extra ten minutes to your journey. If you've got a car, those 10 miles are going to be nothing. If you have a dog on your bike, then you're definitely going to notice them. If you have to walk them, then you're going to notice them even more.

As I mentioned before, you need to know how far you can walk in a given day. You also need to know how far your dog can walk in a given day, unless you're going to carry it. The best way to figure this out is to go and actually tread say, five miles, and see how you feel at the end of it. Remember to do this along the same kind of ground that you'll be heading along when you're bugging out - 5 miles on the walking machine at the air conditioned gym is not the same as 5 miles climbing hills with your bug out bag on your back and your pooch by your side. Doing more walking will prepare you for bugging out, as well as being free exercise. To put your journey into perspective, I could theoretically walk 20 miles in one day along a flat route. I walk about 10-15 miles a week, though, so I'm reasonably good at it. The journey you're suggesting is ~37 miles. That would take me at least 2 days, which would mean *at least* one overnight stop somewhere, which would mean carrying something suitable to sleep in, more if the weather was cold. I'd also have to carry water, a litre of which weighs a kilogram. You would have to carry water for yourself and your dog. Try it out sometime, and gauge how well you'd fare.

You're going to need to have a bug out bag ready and set in an easy to grab location, with everything you're going to need for your journey, as it doesn't look like there are many shops along the route Google suggests. You will definitely need water as a priority before anything else - you won't die for going three days without food, but you could definitely do yourself irreparable damage going without H2O for that long. The RDI for drinking water/day in the US is 3.7L, slightly less for women. You will also need food for yourself and poochlet, preferably of a high-calorie kind as you'll be exercising a lot. Then there's shelter, especially in cold weather. And suitable clothing - Summer clothing in your Go Bag in Winter isn't that much help. It's better than nothing, but sandals are definitely no good for snow. All of this stuff will add up to weighing a fair amount, so be sure that you can manage it.

Send your relatives updates, say every hour, of your location and where you're heading to within the next hour - don't say "I'm going to #town" if it's going to take you the rest of the day to get there. You can do this via text message, and include your latitude and longitude in the text. You can find that out with various apps even if the cell towers are down and you can't get a signal. Right now would be a good time to figure things like that out - I can recommend GPS Test for Android.

Assuming tsunami, do not go anywhere NEAR the water. Get yourself to the highest ground you can. You see all those roads that are right on the water front, and Coyote creek? They're going to get swamped if a tsunami hits. The water level will rise, but it will rise a lot faster along a channel, and get inland to areas where you wouldn't expect it yet, than it will on the flat. See how quickly it happens in this video. If you're trotting along The Bridgeway and Magnolia Avenue, you're not going to stand much of a chance. Larkspur Creek and Tamelpais Creek will get flooded. Being up high is better than being inland. Looking at Terrain view on Google Maps, Sir Frances Drake Blvd isn't much higher than the water in the creek, which would be a problem. That said, the small entrance that the water would have to come through might help in slowing down its entry. Of course, at the point of entry the water level would be that much higher. You might be better off heading for Mount Sutro and climbing the tower. That's assuming that the tsunami arrives off the East coast somewhere.

I understand the impulse to get to family, but to do that you're relying on at least one bridge being open. Personally, I wouldn't bank on that. If you do insist on bugging out, I think you're going to have a better time going South than North, unless you're very quick and can get across the bridge before it closes and know a path you can take after that. Google Maps on your phone won't help you with directions if the towers are down. Try walking the route some day, or at least part of it, and see how you get on. Doing that will give you a lot of valuable feedback about the feasibility of your plan. Seeing how things might actually play out in reality will allow you to refine your plans and make better ones. For example, if you find your route takes you away from metropolitan centres, you might want to find a route that passes by shops so you can get necessary provisions (assuming that the shops are open). If the route you're on is too steep, maybe you can find a more level one.

Bugging out is something of a last resort. If a tsunami/hurricane is going to hit your house, then it's best to get out of the way. Assuming your house is standing after an earthquake, you're going to fare much better there than you are while out walking the roads.
posted by Solomon at 1:09 PM on November 10, 2014 [6 favorites]

If you think you're more of the "stay put" type (I am) I strongly recommend taking San Francisco's NERT course. I took Oakland's and although it was tedious at the start, it ended up being pretty awesome for teaching about how to set up a camp after a disaster- how do you handle medical emergencies? Sewage? etc etc.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:52 PM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

So it's worth noting that Solomon's extra 10 miles and 580W involves the Bay Bridge and the Richmond-San Rafael bridge, the latter being the least likely of the Bay Area bridges to survive any quake in the next decade or two. If you can't go over the Golden Gate, you're really committed to going north across 37 to get to Marin. And that any car times assume no congestion; it's likely that if you're going anywhere that other people want to go after an earthquake it'll be at least like bad rush hour: a bike will be faster. At least until you get far enough from the epicenter that traffic disperses a bit, or long enough after the incident.

Also, I'm a desk jockey who doesn't do the gym thing, but I and a bunch of desk-jockey friends have done about 35 miles on foot in a day (Samuel P. Taylor State Park to the Golden Gate Bridge via the east slope of Mount Tam); it's not that bad, a motivated person in decent shape can do it with sufficient calories and decent nutrition management (250 sucrose/maltose cals/hr moving, 800 cals/hr resting, don't be afraid to stop and give your body time to absorb those calories). The dog could be a limiting factor, or a motivator, depending on the dog...

But, yeah: plan on a shelter in place if you possibly can, move only when you have a stable situation or you really have no other options.
posted by straw at 2:35 PM on November 10, 2014

Best answer: Something my dogsitter warned us when we'd first gotten to California: a lot of shelters that allow dogs won't allow them without a crate. If you think you might have to walk and carry, you'll want to think about w/r/t the size and style of crate. (I, uh, haven't taken care of this yet, but my plan is two collapsible metal crates, and then one of the big plastic varikennel crates, and sufficient bungee/rope to secure it to our big-wheel moving dolly. The plastic crate will strap on door-up so we can fill it with bags/supplies.) Even if you shelter in place, you may be outdoors without a confined area or indoors with a lot of debris so the crate would be important then as well. Maybe a tie-out stake and line as well.

I don't think that going anywhere further than your nearest shelter is ever going to be a good idea. In any likely California emergency, either the ground or the air are going to be too dangerous to navigate any further than absolutely necessary. Prepare your residence for the things you need to shelter in place or very nearby.

And your car, if you have one. Maybe you luck out and you're at home when this event happens, and maybe you're on the freeway. The most serious situation I've ever been in was when all of San Diego County lost power and I was 30 miles from home. It took me 4 hours to make it the final 4 miles, and I was running on fumes with a dead phone battery and no water, no walking shoes (I could have walked home easily...if I'd had a flashlight, which I also didn't have), and no radio except the one installed in my car. I have at least improved that situation a little bit.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:48 PM on November 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Assuming that you do actually want to bug out, you'll need to think about a few things and prepare in a few ways.

You're going to need water, food, shelter, clothing and whatever healthcare you might need for yourself. You're also going to need similar things for your dog. You're going to need a route that you can physically take. You're also going to have to think about what kit you're taking with you.

Firstly, water. Simplest and easiest is to buy some bottled water with a long expiration date on it and put it in the bag. You can buy a thing that goes on a plastic bottle so that your dog can have a drink too. Remember that 1L of water weighs 1 kilogram, and that you're going to have to carry it. That said, you could invest in a water filterer that is hand pumped and can turn stream water into drinking water. They're cheap and they work, but you're relying on having water nearby to filter.

Next is food. Ideally, this will be something with plenty of calories that you can open, chew and swallow while trotting along. Jerky, gorp, protein bars, etc. Don't forget that the dog will need food too. It will likely be able to eat jerky, but ensure that it's not high in sodium or spices. If it will eat dried dog food, a bag of that would be great. Dried=light. Make sure you have enough water for it to drink if you're only feeding dried food. Your vet will be able to advise you on what the dog will need daily. Make sure you keep it rotated so it doesn't go off.

Shelter is going to be much more important in Winter than Summer, but will obviously depend on local conditions. Look for somewhere that will help keep the rain and the wind off you. This might be a large bush, or under the overhang of a building or something similar. Wind is bad, rain is worse & wind and rain together are worse still. No clothes is warmer than wet clothes. Water will draw heat out of you something like 20x faster than air, if I recall correctly. You can get emergency shelters that weigh next to nothing pretty cheaply. They're no use long term, but they'll do for you and pooch to get out of the rain in. Don't assume that hotels will be open/available, assuming there are any along your chosen route. They too might be affected by the disaster.

Your clothing needs will depend on the weather. You will always need a decent pair of walking boots, and I highly recommend some anti-blister socks. They're a sock inside a sock, so any friction happens between two layers of material rather than a layer of material and your foot. It's also useful to carry a packaway mac. They don't take up much space but they're incredibly useful when the weather turns. In Summer, you're more likely to need a wide brimmed hat to keep the sun out of your eyes and off your neck, but in Winter you're more likely to need gloves and a woolly hat. Keep your bag stocked with stuff you're likely to need soon, rather than in six months time. Consider the needs of your dog, too. Is it going to get chilled or overheated?

If you need any medication, don't let it run out before refilling your prescription. Keep a little in reserve for emergencies and for the day-to-day things that crop up from time to time. The same goes for your dog.

You'll also probably need some kit. A cheap-o mobile phone that can handle all of the frequencies in your area might be a lifesaver. Ensure you have credit on it and that the battery is charged. A dead phone isn't going to do anything other than frustrate you. If it's a smartphone, so much the better as you'll likely be able to get a fix on your location to tell someone else.

A first aid kit is also really useful. A first aid course is also really useful, just for general existence. Knowing to keep a bleeding limb elevated could save someone's life, even if you're just going to the shop to get a bottle of milk.

A backup battery for your phone might also come in handy. They're pretty cheap, but can give you an extra boost to your phone's capacity to make calls and let people know where you are. A relative has this particular model and swears by it. Again, lightweight but useful. One thing to note is that your phone will use more battery if it can't find a signla, because it starts to hunt for one. If the cell towers are down, put it into airplane mode then take it out of it every once in a while to see if service has been restored. Make sure your voicemail is set up too, so people can leave you a message even if they can't get through.

Get a decent torch, too. Go for LED types, but make sure the battery is charged up. You can get hand cranked ones, or even one that you just shake. Make sure it's bright enough, though. I have a couple of this style, and they're great to put in a bag and forget about. They run off a single AA battery, not some weird size that you can't get hold of. I also have one of these, which is much brighter but runs off three AAA batteries.

Get hold of a paper map of the area you're going to be walking in and mark your route on it. Then, go walk along the route and make note of any landmarks that will help you find your way. The batteries don't run out on paper maps like they do on a phone not that I have ever experienced that, oh no. You might want to watch a few videos on how to use a compass, too.

You'll also likely need some cash. If power lines are down, then ATMs and card readers and most point of sale checkouts will be down too. Local shops will be more likely to have registers that don't require electricity to work, rather than big chains with computerised inventory systems. Having change might mean the difference between spending $1 on a bottle of water and $5 because the store can't give you change back.

Consider getting a wind-up/solar powered radio. Some will let you charge your phone, but in my experience, this isn't to be relied on as the charging process doesn't always work that well. Lifehacker has a good write-up here.

Put some baby wipes in the bag too. Being able to freshen up is a big morale booster. Also pack some toilet paper. You'll thank yourself.

Ensure that the person you're bugging out to knows you're coming, what time/day to expect you, etc. Just vanishing after a disaster is not a good plan, unless you want to panic people.
posted by Solomon at 4:12 PM on November 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

The most important thing in a ditch bag would be $3-500 in ones and/or fives. I've read enough post-apocalyptic lit to know that the new currency will be cash. Assume that ATMs and credit card networks won't be available.
posted by bendy at 5:28 PM on November 10, 2014

To avoid minor, unforeseen difficulties in general, the suggestions to keep your vehicle's fuel tank full may be valid, but laughable IMO given a catastrophe scenario where the bridges are down. The major roads will become gridlocked almost immediately, and then nobody will be driving away for several days. Stock up and prepare to sit it out for weeks with no power or running water.
posted by Rash at 7:03 PM on November 10, 2014

I was in SF for Loma Prieta and went through a minor hurricane [Isaac] where the power was out for five days.

To not die you need a means to sterlize water first. You are essentialy going camping without the fun. So look to dehydrated camping supplies food and Iodine or some filter or bleach can unfuck your water. You don't want weight and water is the major culprit here.

Bug spray was our Channel No.5.

Mechanically powered flashlights, the ones you grind and that utilize LED bulbs are nice to have.

When the power was out for five days it was reasurring to know that the outside world existed so we all gathered around a crap AM radio.

Neosporin is a great thing.
posted by vapidave at 8:29 PM on November 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

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