My First Earthquake – Observations

I just experienced my first earthquake after living in Los Angeles for about one year.  No, not the “Big One” – just a 5.4.  Just strong enough to get my attention.  Mrs. Fencepost and I are both unhurt, and none of our stuff is damaged that we know about.  🙂

Some minor injuries have been reported, and the building inspectors are out responding to complaints of possible structural damage.  There have been more than 20 aftershocks, but I haven’t felt any of them.

Local authorities are referring to this earthquake as a “wake up call.”  People who, like me, are new to Southern California and did not previously know what to expect in this situation, are thinking about their state of preparedness and what needs to improve.  Here are a few thoughts and observations based on my experience.

What was it like?

The building I was in has a rather noisy air conditioner- every time it turns on, it makes a loud thumping sound that reverberates through the building’s attic.  The earthquake’s initial jolt sounded exactly like that; in fact, I thought at first I was hearing the A/C.  The thump was followed by a rumbling that got very loud very fast and then died away, almost like the sound you hear when a heavy truck or a train goes by.

I was partway up a flight of stairs when the earthquake struck.  I heard the noise first, then noticed that the walls were moving back and forth.  I don’t remember having any trouble keeping my balance.  It took me almost until the earthquake was over before I figured out what it was, mainly because I didn’t know what to expect.

My body responded with a massive surge of adrenaline, and I felt my heart pounding.  I now understand why people with weak hearts sometimes suffer cardiac arrest during earthquakes.

Water Storage

I did not, until today, have any emergency drinking water storage.  I corrected that after doing some research on the internet.  The type of plastic jug that milk is sold in don’t work well for long term storage, because the plastic tends to degrade and leak.  (Trust me – I know that from experience.)  Two-liter soda bottles made from PET plastic are much more suitable.

I found several useful articles on how to purify and store water, including one that suggested drawing water from your hot water heater:

  1. Can Water Go Bad? – article on water storage
  2. Treating and Storing Water for Emergency Use – University of New Mexico publication.  Includes recipes for how much chlorine or iodine to use in drinking water.
  3. Emergency Water Supplies – Advice on treatment, storage, use and conservation of water during emergencies.
  4. How Much Water is Enough? – In a nutshell: keep at least one gallon per person or per pet for three days; consume it based on how thirsty you are – don’t “ration” it, but don’t force yourself to drink more than you are thirsty for either.


Immediately after the quake, I attempted to call Mrs. Fencepost to find out if she was OK.  I was not able to use my cell phone to make voice calls, although we did get some text messages back and forth.  The phones in the building I was in did not have a dial tone.  From home I was able to call out on my VOIP line sooner than on my cell, although VOIP would not have worked if there had been a power outage.

That’s it.  I’ve had my wakeup call, and taken a few steps to be better prepared next time.  I’m just glad that this earthquake was a learning experience rather than a disaster.

Related Links

  1. Make a Quake –  This is an earthquake simulator that allows you to choose the ground, your building materials, and the quake magnitude, to see what happens.
  2. Japanese earthquake test of two houses, one of which is engineered to be earthquake resistant.  Quite eye-opening.
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  1. Rod’s avatar

    Glad to hear you’re OK. I wrote numbers 4 and 5 on your list, and I wanted to point out that, according to the FDA, professionally bottled water doesn’t go bad. I’m not against bottling it yourself as you suggest. However, for those people who want to store it and forget it, buying bottled water is a good idea.

    Again, glad to hear you’re fine. You’re in my thoughts.


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