Disaster Pop Quiz

Disaster Pop Quiz

by Brad


Okay so for years the government and other groups (most likely including your employer) have discussed “Contingency Plans” in the event of a disaster while you are at work.  For those with even a mild “preparedness” mindset I am sure that if you are at home, you have some food, water, and extra stuff that you would need to tough it out until things get back to normal, right?  Yeah well that is a different story all together so let’s not dwell on that topic.  No, instead let’s talk about being at work when the proverbial manure strikes the oscillating air circulator.

You work in a more modern four story building and have been at work for about 2 hours.  Work seems to be progressing normally when you feel a little shudder.  You notice everyone is looking around a little and work stopped when immediately a much larger shudder is felt.  So much larger that you cannot maintain your balance and things are falling off of desks, benches, and out of cabinets as the cabinets themselves are falling over.  Ceiling tiles are falling to the floor, and windows shatter due to the building you are in flexing.  People are scrambling around the room, crawling on the floor to get out of the way of things.  You can barely hear screams and cries of fear over a very loud rumbling and roaring sound.  Some people have been hit by falling debris, books, or injured due to cuts, or blunt trauma.  The power in your building flickers and then fails all together.  It seems like it goes on for hours, but in 1 minute it is all over.  There is an eerie calm.  People start to look around and you see heads popping up from under desks.  You start to hear people crying due to injuries or just out of raw emotion from this event.  Through the broken windows you can hear many car alarms sounding from outside. It is immediately clear that you have just experienced a VERY powerful tectonic adjustment, an earthquake.

The evacuation of the building takes some time, and with mixed experiences from panic and fear, but it is finally completed.  You hear that everyone is accounted for outside even though there is a section of the building where you can tell the second floor has collapsed onto the level below it.  You turn and notice that power poles are down along the street.  You then notice that the, older, three level, parking structure across the lot has completely collapsed.  Car alarms have since stopped sounding, and you realize there is a distinct lack of emergency vehicle sirens.   One of your coworkers can be heard saying that their cell phone doesn’t work and asking people if they can call 911.  As people try to use their mobile devices they realize that none of them work.  You remember that there is a cell repeater tower on top of the parking structure…well there was, but it is now in a heap.  People start to talk about getting home to their families since they cannot contact them to find out if everyone is okay or not.  Since people cannot reenter the building to continue their work many start to go to their cars to leave, but then realize that their keys were at their desk, in their locker, or in their purse.  Some even head back to the building to get them defying the instructions of management telling them not to.

A follow up earthquake hits at that moment, just before they can reenter, and what was remaining of the structural integrity of your building gives out and it completely collapses.  Luckily you find that no one else is inside.  Your employer tells everyone that they are free to leave and go home and they will contact everyone when business is able to continue.  As you turn to leave a number of questions cross your mind about your ability to get home.  You can see from the looks on your coworkers faces they are wondering the same thing.

  1. Can you get home?
    • Driving:
      • Is your car still okay after the earthquake?
      • Will my car get me home?
        • If you have to drive off road to get around something will your Prius get you through it?
      • Do you have your car keys?
        • Do you keep your keys in your pocket?
        • You can also have a spare key in your wallet made from plastic.
          • Even if it will only open the door, you can get to any gear you have in the car, or to another set of keys in the car.


          • Do you have an extra set hidden on your car?
      •   Do you have enough fuel?
        • How low do you allow your gas to get before filling up?  Is it at ½ tank?  Or maybe at ¼ tank?
        • Will I have to stop for gas?
          • If I do and there is no gas available, will I just leave my car where it runs out of gas?
      •   How many overpasses will you encounter on your way home?
        • What if they have collapsed?
          • Can you get around or over them?
            • Do you have the tools to cut chain link if you need to?
      • What if traffic is backed up due to this?
        • Can you still find a route around traffic?
        • Will you have to get out and walk anyway
    • Walking:
      • How long will it take me to walk home?
        • Let’s say you live 21 miles from home.  The average person can walk 3 miles per hour over flat terrain in normal weather conditions.  20 ÷ 3 = 7 hours.
      • Can you physically walk the distance?
        • Have you walked that far before?
        • What shoes do you have available?
          • Are you walking home in high heels?
          • Are you wearing shoes that will allow you to navigate over or around obstacles?
    •   What is the weather like?
      • Is it cold?
        • Do you have enough warmth to keep your core temperature up?
        • Do you have any food and or water to feed your bodies furnace, and avoid dehydration?
          • Yes you still can become dehydrated in cold weather too.
        • Do you have a hat?
          • You lose over 75% of your body heat through the top of your head.
        • Do you have gloves that will prevent frostbite?
        • Will you be walking through snow?
          • Do your shoes provide enough insulation to prevent frostbite?
      • Is it hot?
        • Are you dressed appropriately for hot weather to limit risks of heat stroke, heat exhaustion, and sun burn?
        • Do you have water to prevent dehydration?


2. Do I have any food or water for the trip home?

    • If you are walking home you need some sustenance to keep your energy up.
    • Water is the body’s lubricant.  Everything you do requires water, even eating food or drinking water.  Your body will need more water to process all of it.

3. Do I have any medicine I may need?

    • Do you have extra medicines available in your car for just an emergency?

4. What areas will I have to pass through, and will they be safe?

    • This is not about profiling or judging anything other than , “I know that the crime rate is higher in that neighborhood, than in another” type of knowledge.
    • Should you take a different route?
      • Are there fires, floods, or just some scary individuals around that set off my senses?

5. What if I have to spend a night outside?

    • Do I have some sort of shelter?
    • Do I have a heat source if I need one?
    • Can I stay warm enough?
    • Would I be safe?
      • Predators
        • Four leg
        • Two leg

These are just a VERY FEW of the types of questions that people should ask themselves when thinking about being prepared at work.  Nobody is going to just live at their work after a disaster, there just simply are not enough supplies to provide for you, and you will want to be with your loved ones to ensure they are safe, and secure.

Going back to just after the quake:

Scenario A:

You reach into your pocket and find it empty.  You decide there is nothing for you at work so you start walking home.  After just a couple of blocks you look down at your poor feet as you trudge along in your very stylish leather soled shoes.  You are lost in your thoughts and concerns for your family and what has just transpired when someone says to you “Hey! I bet you have something for us don’t you?” as you look up to see three young men standing in front of you brandishing knives. This really happened to me and is a quote from them, but it turned out differently, but not from my actions or preparations.  You hand over your wallet, Cell phone, watch, and your wedding ring and they run off.  After a couple of hours of walking, but being more aware of your surroundings, you sit down from feeling a bit dizzy.  You are very thirsty; you have a dull throbbing headache, not to mention you are very hungry.  You fall asleep for a bit and awaken a couple of hours later to find it has started to rain on you.  You are cold, and shivering a little.  You get up and find you still have the headache and are a little dizzy but keep on going.  It is dark out, but with enough light to keep your course for home.  You arrive at home a few hours later to find that it is still upright and intact even with some damage.  You find a note on your front door saying that your spouse has taken the children to their parents because they may have a generator, so please try to get there as soon as possible.  It is only 15 miles away… in the direction you just came from.  You hope that there is something to eat when you get there in a little over 5 hours.

2 hours into your travel you are stopped by police and detained due to a curfew violation imposed after the quake.  The good news is that they only detain you until morning and you do get some water.  The bad news is that the police station is 1 mile in the wrong direction.

Total travel distance 37 miles.  Your car is still at work.  You are without your personal effects. You are still not reunited with your family, and now you have a police record for curfew violation.


Scenario B:

You reach into your pocket and pull out the keys.  You go to your truck and unlock it.  You have a “Get Home Bag” in the back seat and go through its contents taking an inventory.
You find that you have:

  • Dehydrated food
  • Two Meals Ready to Eat (MRE’s)
  • A flashlight
  • Storm Proof matches
  • Four emergency blankets (the little Mylar ones)
  • A wool blanket
  • 3 day supply of prescription medicines
  • A knife with sharpener
  • A personal protection device with extra supplies and maintenance kit.
  • 4 Energy bars
  • Extra wool socks
  • Two garbage bags
  • Magnesium fire starter bar
  • 2 liter water bladder
  • Water purification tablets
  • First Aid kit
  • 4 single serving flavored water bottle size drink mixes. (these hide the flavor of the tablets)


Folded nicely next to the bag, and on top of a case of water, you also find a pair of jeans, a shirt and jacket, a knit hat, and a pair of wool socks.


After a quick change of clothes, filling the water bladder from the bottles, adding two more full bottles inside the bag, and throwing the bag into the front seat, you hop in and start your truck.  A quick scan of the dash reveals that the truck is running fine and has ¾ of a tank of fuel remaining.  You drive out of the lot and within a few feet you see a downed power line across the road.  You backtrack a little and are able to get around it and start heading home.  This normally 30 minute trip was going to take you a bit longer, and it is a good idea to let the spouse know.  Reaching down you turn on the CB radio and tune it to your pre-established channel and start calling for your spouse.  After a few tries your child responds and lets you know that the family is okay, the generator is running fine, and they will wait at home for you to help decide what to do next.  They also report that the gas and water have been shut off at the meters and they are excited to camp out in your tent (or camp trailer if you have one)

As you drive along you come to numerous overpasses that are all down, but with the bolt cutters (to cut the chain link fences at the bottoms of them, and trucks 4 wheel drive you have been able to go around / over them.  One area you come to is not such a nice area but by paying attention to people who are eyeing you up, and avoiding them you are able to proceed at an acceptable pace.  Along the way you get a little thirsty and take a nice long pull from the water bladder and think that warm water is better than no water, and then enjoy an energy bar to keep the hunger pangs at bay.  It takes you 2 hours, but you arrive home without incident.  You have checked in every few minutes using the CB so stress is low when you finally arrive.  Your spouse comes out and looks at you and asks with a devilish grin; “Did you stop and get milk?” You are home.   That night you all sit down together and enjoy a warm meal together listening to the radio.


So which scenario do you find most appealing?  For me it seems so much easier to just be even a little prepared.  This scenario was about an earthquake in the spring/fall seasons, but what if it would have been in the cold of winter during a big snowstorm?  What if you lived near a large lake and experienced a seiche? What if you were in the desert?  What if you were 250 miles away on business?  Could you get home?  Would you get home?

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12 thoughts on “Disaster Pop Quiz”

  1. Great wake up call. I keep get home supplies in my locker at work as well as in the car for the same reasons. But the plastic key idea filled a gap that I hadnt considered.

  2. The “plastic key” is good for standard cars that don’t key on the electronics in the key or key fob. I have a Prius for trips when I don’t need the truck – there is a MAJOR difference in fuel usage – and if the key is anywhere near the car it unlocks itself when you pull on the driver door handle. So DON’T leave your key near it or in it or under it.

    The ‘valet key’ that came with a BMW I had would let the car go about 2 to 5 miles then shut down the car. It was always testing the key in the ignition to see if it matched one ‘registered’ with the car.

    I have a get home bag in every vehicle we own. The trick is to have what you need when you have flown out of town on business.

    I have been in earthquakes and though they can cause major damage and collapse bridges, buildings, destroy roads, cause landslides, etc., they are still relatively local. So the affected area you see is proportional to how close to the epicenter you are and the magnitude of the quake. I had crossed over the freeway that collapsed in Oakland during the Loma Prieta quake just 10 minutes before before the quake hit. From there it took 4 hours to get to home, no power, no signals working, EVERYONE seemingly on the freeway at once, to cover a commute that would normally have been 1 more hour. The last 5 miles took 1 hour. If I didn’t normally fill up at the 1/2 tank level I would have been on foot.

    If you are travelling in an area that prevents you from using your vehicle I would adjust your walking time calculation to more like 1.5 to 2 miles per hour. Then factor in detours due to blockages or two legged predators by multiplying your distance by 1.5 times. Plus the ‘I haven’t walked more than 1 mile in a whole day’ level of fitness for most people and you have a 2-3 day get home walking ordeal.

    With that being said, ‘acquire’ a bike. Now where the nearest bicycle shop is from your work. Or buy one from the 1st kid you see. Only be on foot if you really HAVE TO.

    Our get home bags will give us 3-4 days of time to work around anything we need to to get home. The likelihood that something will happen near home is directly proportional to the time you spend there. If, like me, you are on the road more, then it is more likely you will be there. Plan accordingly.

  3. This was excellent. Many good ideas here. Thanks for sharing. I’m going to print and keep it for future “family discussion and training” events. Please do another! This is exactly the type of articles we need.

  4. I would have liked to see a third scenario where he pulled out his trusty 1911 and exploded the brain pans of the thugs who were trying to rob him. 😉

  5. Good article, I was in the Loma Prieta too CM. remember trying to get out of the lab, I had been running 300 liters H2 gas units when it hit. You could see the ground rising and lowering as ocean swells at the beach as they came towards you. We have (GHB)’s. for my daughters now 25 and 27, for them I purchased OD coveralls likes the pilots suits. Like some women my daughters work in offices were they wear heels and dresses. with the jump suits all they have to do is remove there heels heels step into the jump suit pull it up over there dress, zip up, but there hiking shoes on and there good to go. It saves trying to find a place to change.

  6. Wonderful, thought provoking article. Thanks for keeping us informed and helping us renew our desire to be prepared for any scenario.

  7. WOW! Two folks here were in Loma Prieda! I was 9 years old when that thing hit living in Antioch – scared me to death and gave me a complex. I can’t enter a room without finding out where I am going to hide and my kids have strict protocol to follow if one hits.

  8. “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. You are the guy who’ll decide where to go.” -Dr. Seuss-

  9. In such a scenario, it can also be useful to know how to hot-wire cars for emergency purposes. You can google it. If you lost your car key, the window can be broken if necessary.


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