The Stephens, one of four families who lived off their emergency supplies over the weekend, faced several challenges.

The Red Cross recommends you store 14 gallons of water and 42 meals per person in the event of a natural disaster, enough to last about two weeks.  Ten-year-old Sadie Stephens packed a few extra essentials.

“I only brought my sneakers, a notebook, and I brought my stuffed animal because I can’t sleep without him,” she said, showing off the tent she shared with her mom, Megan Stephens.

The Stephens women, along with 11-year-old Shea and father John Stephens, recently participated in OPB’s “Living Off Your Quake Kit” weekend, in which they practiced living off their emergency supplies.

Outside the tent at the Portland family’s home, the rest of the emergency gear was staged in yard: boxes of freeze dried meals, a radio charged by a small solar panel, a generator and about 30 gallons of water stored in large jugs.

“It could be weeks before the city has water trucks coming down your street. It’s very unrealistic to think first responders are going to have enough for people,“ said John, a program officer with Mercy Corps.

 A real Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake could badly damage the city’s water pipes and it could take more than a year to repair the system. So over the weekend, the family relied on their stored water to drink, do their dishes, and cook their dehydrated meals.

The family experienced an earthquake when they lived in China in 2013 — a scare that convinced them to prepare for the big one in Oregon.

The only thing their kit was really missing was a skillet, essential because one of their emergency food boxes contained dozens of silver packages of pancake mix. Shea loves pancakes. On Saturday, with some help from Megan, he poured some mix into a soup can and cooked it on the fire.

Shea Stephens eats a pancake cooked in a tin can on a fire in the backyard of their house in North Portland. Over the weekend, the Stephens had to live off what they could find and cook, without using power sources or running water.

Shea Stephens eats a pancake cooked in a tin can on a fire in the backyard of their house in North Portland. Over the weekend, the Stephens had to live off what they could find and cook, without using power sources or running water.

Amelia Templeton/OPB

“’The cancake!” he announced proudly, taking a bite of the mostly cooked result.  “And I invented it by the way. No credit goes to mom.”

“I get some credit because it’s my can,” Sadie argued.

But the Stephens aren’t just worried about feeding their own kids. They want to help their neighborhood after a disaster.  John has a chainsaw and crowbar for search and rescue operations, and he and Megan plan to share their supplies with people who need help — an idea the kids weren’t sold on.

“What If another family said, ‘We forgot to pack food. Can we hang out with you guys?’” John proposed.   

“No!” Sadie said. “Not happening. I’d slam the door!” Shea agreed.

“What if Ezra came over? What would you do if your best friend came over?” John said, gently pressing the kids.

Sadie thought about it. “I’d give her half my chicken noodle soup,” she said.

On Sunday, John and Megan conducted an informal neighborhood survey, to find out who on their block had prepared and who would need help after a real quake.  

“I think I could be helpful with food, because I’m a single mom who shops at Costco,” said Barb Fisher, the first neighbor they visited. “But not water. I mean, I probably have 15 pounds of pasta in the basement but how would we cook it?”

John told Fisher that in a real emergency, she could drain her hot water heater and use that water.

“Oh, that’s exciting. I feel like I could contribute!” Fisher said, relieved.


Next, the Stephens talked with Myrna Huffman, an 87-year-old neighbor who lives alone. She had plenty of food and cat food, but again, no bottled water.

“Well, if there’s a big earthquake, we’re coming over to see what you need, OK?” Megan assured her.  

Over the course of the day, Megan and John talked to five of their neighbors. John was shaken by what he learned: No one has water stored.

“I wasn’t expecting them all to be unprepared,” he said.  

John and Megan decide it would be worth getting rain barrels and building a water catchment system that could hold hundreds of gallons, instead of dozens.

But John also realized he needs to encourage more of his neighbors to prepare. There’s only so far the family can stretch their own knowledge and supplies.

“If we have a great kit and we come into a community where we’re one out of 100 families that’s prepared, it’s going to have some pretty bad consequences,” he said. “I’m worried about what that’s going to mean.”