Earthquake Survival Kit and Tips

I’ve always had a bit of kit put aside for a rainy day. A few items that would seem fickle at the time but would really come in handy should the need arise.

The recent earthquake in Christchurch has meant that I’ve put some of that kit into practice but, at the same time, I’ve found a good few areas where the kit could be improved.

Here’s my earthquake survival kit based on some stuff I already had plus a few things I wish’d that I had just after the earthquake last Saturday morning. Keep these in a couple of holdalls (sports bags) in the garage or spare room that you can grab easily in the event of an emergency. A lot of this I actually keep in a box in the car.

Christchurch Earthquake Road Cracks

Earthquake Survival Kit

  • Water – Buy a few large sealed plastic containers of water. These are usually good for 2 years or so (check the best before date). Filling up containers from the tap is ok but generally these are only good for a week or two.
  • Food – Keep a decent amount of tinned food plus any packets of non-perishable food in reserve.
  • Multi-tool – Something with a knife and a can-opener for all those tins.
  • Torches – Head torches are great, particularly the newer LED models rather than the old-school bulbs. LEDs last a billion times longer and use up less battery power. If you can, get a standard head torch as well as a wind-up torch that doesn’t use any batteries at all.
  • Batteries – These can be a pain as they can degrade if left for any amount of time, although Energizer now make batteries with much longer shelf-lives. Good for torches and radio.
  • Candles – Really cheap so throw a couple of handfuls in there. If you don’t end up needing them, your neighbours might.
  • Lighters – Everyone always says matches but matches can be a real pain in even slight wind. Best bet is to get both.
  • Camping stove and gas – Not essential but a good idea. Particularly for boiling water.
  • Spare clothes – Got some old, warm clothes and shoes lying around the house that you don’t wear much any more? Keep them in your kit.
  • First Aid Kit – Make sure this is kept stocked and remember that some items in a first aid kit have an expiry date.
  • Hand Sanitizer – Get the stuff that doesn’t need any water as you may not have a water supply. Health can deteriorate quickly after an earthquake due to sewer damage and any rubble clean up you may have to do.
  • Battery powered or wind-up radio – Believe me, the first thing you want to know about once you’ve ensured your immediate safety following an earthquake is what is happening on a wider scale. Without knowing where the earthquake hit, we wanted to know if there was a tidal wave to follow and if we should head for the hills. Civil Defence will also broadcast their updates and warnings primarily through the radio.  Some cell-phones have radios but some, like mine, only work with the headset in and you don’t want to be scrabbling around for that, plus your cellphone battery should be preserved for emergencies.
  • Water sterilising tablets – As in Christchurch, sewer pipes may burst and contaminate water used for drinking and washing. In the event of this, use sterilising tablets that can be bought at most outdoor and camping stores. If you don’t have these, you must boil water for at least 3 minutes on a rolling boil (i.e. hard out boiling!).
  • Blankets/Sleeping bags – You may have to stay at emergency welfare centres so it can be a good idea to take you’re own sleeping gear with you.

Mark clearing up after the Christchurch earthquake.

Gear for the car

All of the above is great, and much of it is obvious, but there’s some stuff you could keep in the back of your car for situations you may come across. Don’t forget that other people could be in need and a helping hand plus a good rope could save days of stress.

  • Fire Extinguishers – Instead of getting one large one, get two small ones. Keep one in the car and one in your house.
  • Shovel – You can get a folding shovel from any good 4WD store.
  • Tow ropes
  • Axe
  • Bow saw
  • Jumper cables
  • Tarpaulins (plus bungy cords or thin rope for fixing)

Porrit Park Earthquake Damage, Christchurch

Other tips

  • During an Earthquake
    There’s a bit of a discussion about whether you should stand in a doorway or get under the bed. I’ve since read that you should actually curl up somewhere next to something solid.
    Get down next to a solid chest of drawers and then anything falling above you should create a soft of roof above you – you’ll be inside an airspace with the solid furniture providing one of the walls. Update: The government is now saying that this advice (which has been circulated by email) is dangerous as school kids are taught to drop and find cover. Either way, get out of the way of falling stuff!
  • Driving
    One thing I noticed in the couple of days after the earthquake is that people suddenly drive like morons! Seriously. It’s insane. To be fair, everyone’s in their own head space and in a mild state of panic so driving can become erratic. People fly through traffic lights that aren’t working or veer across lanes without indicating … I mean … ok that’s fairly normal for Christchurch. On a side note, I had permission from the police to cross a cordon in order to get my vehicle to a work address to clear out some gear. Driving through abandoned city streets without any traffic and the wrong way down long stretches of one-way road is actually quite fun.
  • Aftershocks
    There’s heaps of these and some of them can be almost as worse as the original. I had the mentality of ‘knock it over in advance’, i.e. I went around the house and took everything down of shelves and knocked over a few CD towers etc. so that there was nothing left with any distance to fall. Primarily, I made sure my PS3 was safe. It’s all about priorities.
  • Building damage
    After an earthquake, there’s a strong pull within us that says ‘I want to be with my own stuff in my own place’ but this could get us in trouble. Make sure you have a good, thorough check of your home to ensure there’s no cracks in the walls or around the ground before you head back inside. Check your house again after each solid aftershock.
  • Chimney damage
    These can cause the most problems for many homes. While your home may look fine, your tall brick chimney could be unstable and may fall onto and possibly through your roof with another aftershock or high winds. Cracks tend to appear towards the base of the chimney, near the roof level, plus mortar shakes itself into dust leaving the bricks unstable. If in doubt, knock it down! If you can safely get onto your roof, take a lump hammer and begin to remove the bricks from the top layer down until you’re level with the roof. Then seal it with a tarpaulin or butynol. If it’s really unstable, keep off the roof and try and get a rope around it to pull it down. If you can get hold of a builder, get them to take a look at it first.
  • Power
    If you’ve still got power, that’s great. Make sure you check in the roof space to make sure nothing’s fallen against any of the wires. If you need to head out for a while, it’s a good idea to switch your power off. Even if everything’s fine now, another aftershock could damage your circuit board and start a fire. If switching the power off, have a think about shifting the contents of your freezer to a chilly bin or similar. Also check to see if your phones still work with the power off. Keep your own cellphone and other batteries on charge to make the most of the power while you still have it.
  • Water
    If your water is off straight away, it could be due to no incoming pressure from the street supply. Alternatively, you may have a broken pipe between your house and the main supply. Have a check under your floor space for any leaks. Again, if you’re heading out, it’s a good idea to turn your water off – particularly if there was no pressure to start with. If the main supply suddenly comes back on and you have leaks then you could be in trouble. If you have no water then make sure you turn off your hot water cylinder. As your cylinder drains, you’ll suddenly be heating nothing but air and you’ll damage your thermostat. Remember that even if you turn the water off, you’ll have a full hot water cylinder and a cold water cylinder (in some cases) as well. The cold water may not be coming out of your tap due to no back pressure but you can still tap the cylinder itself. Once the water is back on, be aware of sewer pipes that may have leaked into the drinking water supply. Boil your water for at least 3 minutes on a rolling boil before use.

The ideal scenario in case of an earthquake is … be somewhere else when it happens!

  • laura

    thanks for your helpful advise…much appreciated.

  • Anonymous

    Great tips, and good practical advice. I definitely agree you should always have a spare Axe in your car, in case you ever need a bad pun :).

  • Thanks Axe! (Facepalm) ;)

  • Ryan

    water food flashlight

  • Ryanpeddle

    rope axe sleeping bag

  • Produkt

    “. As your cylinder drains, you’ll suddenly be heating nothing but air and you’ll damage your thermostat.” – Actually you’ll roast the elements, and if the fuse doesn’t blow there’s a slight chance of fireexplosion

  • Cheers for the extra details. Very good point. Particularly as after the 22nd February earthquake, so many people just abandoned their homes and fled to relatives elsewhere in New Zealand … leaving their power turned on at the mains. When the power came back on, they risked major fires either due to appliances that had been left on (it was lunch time, there were plenty of ovens still on) and also due to appliances that were damaged in the shake and then exploded when the power came back on. Apparently there were over 200 fire brigade call outs when power came back on to one large area.

  • Golfingpunk

    Great practical stuff, plus, love your sense of humor. Well done mate.

  • Cheers!