Living Off Your Quake Kit: Stephens Family Feels Ready After Brush With Earthquake

By Amelia Templeton (OPB)
May 14, 2015 7:52 p.m.
The Stephens family feels they're overall prepared for a natural disaster, but are concerned they do not have enough water stored at their house.

The Stephens family feels they're overall prepared for a natural disaster, but are concerned they do not have enough water stored at their house.

Amelia Templeton / OPB


John Stephens is a program officer for Mercy Corps with 15 years of experience responding to international disasters, including the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed more than 200,000 people.

And yet in spite of John's experience, in 2013, when the family was living in China, his wife Megan felt vulnerable and powerless when they were caught in a magnitude 6.6 earthquake on a bus in Sichuan province.

The Stephens rushed back to their apartment and gathered food, cash, breathing masks and a few candles.

Stephens Family Supplies

John and Megan Stephens keep an extensive range of supplies in their home in case of disaster, including:

  • Approximately 20 gallons of water
  • Box of freeze dried meals
  • Nuts, granola bars, oatmeal
  • Propane stove
  • Generator
  • Flashlights and headlamps
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Candles
  • Advanced first aid kit
  • Gloves
  • Breathing masks
  • Bleach
  • Buckets

"We really would have been totally on our own. We got a little kit together, enough to last a few days, and hoped someone took pity on us," Megan said.  

The city of Chengdu, where the Stephens lived, survived. Near its epicenter, the Lushan quake killed more than 100 people and flattened thousands of homes.

The Stephens eventually returned to the Northwest, and now live in a 100-year-old house in North Portland.

Megan works as a speech pathologist for Portland Public Schools, and the couple has two children. Sadie May just turned 10 and celebrated with a cake topped with an elephant — her favorite animal. Shea, 11, collects Legos and likes to repair computers.

The family is one of the households participating in OPB's "Living Off Your Quake Kit" event May 15-17. They're eager for a chance to see how their preparedness would hold up in a simulation of a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake.

Apart from the typical disaster readiness supplies of food and water, John also plans to use his chainsaw, crowbar and first aid training to help with search and rescue in the family's neighborhood.

The Stephens also have earthquake insurance to make certain they don't survive the quake only to lose their life's savings.

"Ultimately human life is primary. You want to make sure that your family and your neighbors live, but maintaining that investment in your home is pretty critical," John said.

Megan worries about the possibility that the family could be separated if the bridges across the Willamette River collapse.  

"I just don't like that we could be cut off from each other even in the same city," she said.  "We'll pay good money. We'll pay you in rice and beans if you ferry us back and forth across the Willamette."

Learn more and join in OPB’s “Living Off Your Quake Kit” weekend. On May 15-17, OPB will follow Oregon families as they try to live off their emergency supplies. You can follow along on social media with #UnpreparedNW.