Stephens Family: 'You Have To Keep Practicing It'

By Amelia Templeton (OPB)
May 17, 2015 3:12 a.m.
The Stephens pose for a photo with containers that could be used to store water in the event of a natural disaster.

The Stephens pose for a photo with containers that could be used to store water in the event of a natural disaster.

Alan Sylvestre / OPB

Shea Stephens is only 11 years old, but there’s a lot he knows.

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He knows where to find his dad’s wrenches, where the natural gas line enters the house, and why it’s a good idea to shut off that gas after a major quake.

“So that it won’t explode the house, and catch everything on fire,” he explains.

Shea’s also noticed that in front of every house on his block, there’s a deep cut in the sidewalk, covered over with a plastic lid. That’s where the water shutoffs are, he explains.

The Stephens attempt to build a fire in the backyard of their north Portland home.

The Stephens attempt to build a fire in the backyard of their north Portland home.

Alan Sylvestre / OPB

His parents say he was born curious about engineering and infrastructure. When they took him to the zoo as a kid, he ignored the elephants and tigers, and asked questions about the pipes and switches and solar panels he saw.

Shea’s greatest moment of ingenuity on Saturday was the Can-Cake.

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“It’s a pancake in a can. And I invented it,” he says.

For dinner, the family opens a new bucket of emergency rations, filled with hundreds of silver plastic packages. Each bares a suspiciously vague label, like “country noodle” and “potato bacon.”

Shea's parents, John and Megan, grimace as they stir the country noodle in a pot over the fire.

“Oh my god,” John says as he looks into the pot. “We’re faking, like, 'C’mon kids, try it.' Big smile.”

“It’s better than starving, isn’t it?” Megan says, laughing. “We’ve got 24 hours to go and we’re starting to lose it."

Shea emerges with a package of pancake mix. The family has no griddle, so he pours it into an old soup can and sets it on the fire. After about 20 minutes, it has cooked solid into a can full of blueberry pancake.

After dinner, they move on to a more serious subject. What would the Stephens family do if they were separated by a major earthquake? Megan asks the kids what they’d do if they were on their way home on the bus when a disaster struck.

Sadie Stephens plays with her guinea pig in the backyard of their house in north Portland.

Sadie Stephens plays with her guinea pig in the backyard of their house in north Portland.

Alan Sylvestre / OPB

ldquo;We’d probably go to dad’s work first, because we don’t know as well where you work” says Sadie, Shea's younger sister.

“Shea, what would you do?” Megan asks.

"We could walk across the bridge," he answers.

Megan is incredulous and alarmed. "Would you really go looking for dad?"

"Yes," the kids say.

Megan and John both jump in, and remind the kids of what their actual plan is: The children are supposed to get to their house or school and wait for their parents or grandparents.

"Once again, surfacing some gaps in our plan," John says. "The children will not venture downtown, and swim across the Willamette, but will instead stay put, and let their parents find them."

"We've talked to our kids about the fact that this is where we meet up," Megan says. "I was surprised that just because you've said it, it doesn't necessarily stick. You have to keep practicing it."

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