Sixty-three-year-old Brook Gowin lit a camp stove on her patio. She was heating up her first dinner cooked entirely with earthquake emergency supplies. The night’s menu: a can of clam chowder with canned salmon mixed in and a side of canned greens beans.
“Hope we don’t have any aftershocks. Our dinner will go all over,” she said.
Gowin is one of the people who participated in OPB’s “Living Off Your Quake Kit” weekend, in which Oregonians tested their disaster readiness plans for three days.
Heading into the weekend, Gowin knew she faced some challenges when it came to surviving an earthquake. She gets by on very little income and has physical limitations from sports injuries.
“Climbing over things is very difficult for me. I have to kind of hang onto my leg and help it up and down a lot,” she said. “If I were climbing over debris trying to get out of the house … I’m in trouble.”
“I have two of these: pet emergency care handbooks. They are neat,” she said. “I did read how to resuscitate a cat — CPR for cats — which is pretty darn tricky.”
Gowin relies on medication to get through the day, and she knows that after an earthquake her supply could run out.
“There’s not a whole lot that I can do. I don’t have the money to stockpile,” she said. “It’s not like I can get a surplus. My insurance won’t cover it. They only fill a prescription when it’s due.”
John Warner, who heads an emergency preparedness committee in Portland, says access to emergency supplies of medication is a real problem – particularly for people with low income who can’t pay for them out of pocket.
His advice for people who know they’ll need medication after an earthquake is to treat their supply like a tank of gas in their car, and always keep it at least half full.
“If there were a disruption, then you’d have enough to get through a couple of weeks if there was a disaster,” Warner said.
Gowin also doesn’t have a car, and that’s another potential issue for her. It’s good to know where to go in an emergency, she says, but she doesn’t know how she’d get there.
“My neighbors don’t have cars. Many people in emergencies, all they think about is themselves,” she said. “They don’t go around checking on their neighbors: ‘Do you need a ride to a shelter?’ They’re gone.”
Emergency management officials said they’re hoping just the opposite will happen, and that neighbors will help people with disabilities and those with few resources in the chaotic days after the big one hits.
Director of the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management Carmen Merlo said community can be as crucial to disaster survival as stockpiling resources.
“As an individual, I might not have all the supplies myself but I can rely on my neighbors, my faith group, my other social network I’m involved with to help out,” said Merlo.
Experts say one way people with disabilities should prepare for an earthquake is to make arrangements now with a friend or relative who is able-bodied — someone they can trust to check on them and make sure they have what they need. For Gowin, that person may be her friend in Gresham who has a car and a wood stove.
“She’s talked about if the power goes out she’ll come get me,” Gowin said. “I think I would probably be one of the first people on her mind to come and get.”
After a weekend of living off her emergency supplies, Gowin said she doesn’t want to worry about how bad things could be after an earthquake.
She knows how to make a fire starter out of recycled toilet paper rolls and discount candles. She knows how to conserve water and bandage wounds.
But after tasting her salty canned soup and giving up on her canned green beans, she does plan on replacing her emergency food supplies with something she’d actually want to eat.