When I started to write this I was thinking of them, but as I continue I’m thinking of you as well.
Seeing the recent news of the two larger earthquakes in our former home of Southern California has brought back some memories. Our family was in Tokyo during the 9.1 earthquake that hit Sendai in 2011. It was March, 11 2011. A Friday. It was Lent. I can tell you where we were, what we were doing, and how it all felt before, during and after. What I don’t remember was having a plan.
And why would we? Why should we have a plan in case of a large earthquake? Because we are all guilty of having the ‘It won’t happen here/it can’t happen to us’ mentality. It’s nothing to feel ashamed about, but it is something we should be cognizant of and change because sometimes we can be prepared.
This isn’t meant to make anyone worry, but it doesn’t hurt to think about these things. We can all agree it’s good to be prepared. Since we live in Japan and experienced this first hand, I can empathize and imagine what our friends back in SoCal might be thinking. I also think about the actions we took once we moved from Tokyo to California and back again, and how they are worth sharing.
1.) Earthquake Insurance
This isn’t necessarily applicable to most expats since our homes are handled by the companies that move us, but if you live in a geographically unstable area, you should have this. No question. I’ve done a little research and was stunned to learn that many people in California do not have earthquake insurance. According to the California Department of Insurance the number that do is roughly 13%. In most cases this is a completely separate policy from homeowners so if you think you’re covered, review your policy carefully. If you discover any damage due to earthquakes is not covered take a few moments to contact your agent and do your due diligence. Make sure you understand what your earthquake policy, new or not, covers. Do not assume anything.
2.) The Go Bag
Once the main earthquake had passed, we still experienced many large aftershocks. We decided then to put together a bag in case we could not stay in our home and put it in a central location, near our front door, so anyone could grab it quickly if we had to leave. We call it our Go Bag and this is what we have inside at all times.
A change of clothes per person, important papers (birth certificates, immunization forms, school records, passports (for those who live abroad), copies of ID’s, social security cards, proof of residence), money, water bottles, a first-aid kit, special medicines (Jackson’s inhaler), sunscreen, hats, extra socks, close-toed shoes, flashlights, bath wipes, whistles, emergency blankets, books to read.
If you’re not in Japan, chances are you have a car and can keep a bag like this in there. The most important thing to remember is that it should be waterproof. If you’re a camper you probably already have one, but there are great options from North Face and Amazon. Amazon also has some amazingly well-priced earthquake kits.
3.) Location, Location, Location
We don’t live at home 24/7. We work, we’re at school, we go out with friends. This makes having a central meet-up location very important. Japan has excellent systems and the locals will offer guidance. They communicate very well, even to expats, about where they should go and how they should get there. Office buildings and shopping centers have evacuation routes, workspaces have plans. The schools are well equipped for taking care of the children as well.
Still, every place is different and your normal methods of communication-ie. social media-will not work. I know this first hand. My husband was at work when the earthquake struck and social media crashed, or at least Facebook did since that was the largest platform available. We had to wait a very long hour as he walked home to know that he was alright. So what do you do? If you have children their school will have a plan so keep that in mind. Plan around that.
This is our family plan for a large earthquake: if we’re at home we take the stairs down so we can be safely outside of the building. If we have to leave the area and we’re not together we leave a note as to where we’re going.
So how do you communicate if you’re separated and the internet is down? I’m not a fan of tracking app’s but there are several that have satellite locators and GPS tracking. Do a little research and see what works best for you. You won’t be able to see where someone is currently, but you’ll be able to see their last location. Note for expats: not all work internationally so something like Family Locator & Safety and Find My Friends are good. Glympse is as well, and of course, there’s the ever reliable Google Maps.
Again, this isn’t to make anyone worry, but to err on the side of caution isn’t a bad thing, and to make sure your family is prepared if it does is good. If you have anything else to add, let me know!