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In 1987, before the California Loma Prieta earth quake, a real estate magazine published one of those odious checklists which are designed to eat up your time, and confer a sense of doing something productive while you are doing nothing of the kind. What follows is- a commentary on the suggestions in the checklist. Actually, the ideas arenít all that bad, just need a dash of skepticism.

The words of the original article are in bold. Our observations are not so bold.

STAY CALM. Just because you are about to be smashed like a cockroach does not mean that you have to run around like one.

Inside: Stand in a doorway, or crouch under a desk or table, away from windows or glass dividers. You would not wish to be killed outright. Far better to hold out, dying slowly of thirst and hunger, while insects and small animals chew about your feet and legs for about a week.

Outside: Stand away from buildings, trees, telephone and electric lines. Instead, hold yourself plump and ready for the armed looters, robbers and rapists.

On the road: Drive away from under passes/overpasses; stop in a safe area; stay in vehicle. See above.

Check for injuries - provide first aid. That annoying arterial bleeding will stain the new carpet.

Check for safety -- check for gas, water, sewage breaks; check for downed electric lines and shorts; turn off appropriate utilities; check for building damage and potential safety problems during after shocks such as cracks around chimney and foundation. On the other hand, your next door neighbor, lacking earthquake insurance, will ignore these hazards, hoping his building will be consumed by flames and thus be replaced by his fire insurer.

Clean up dangerous spills. We donít want all that anthrax spraying around.

Wear shoes. Duh! Bruno Magli if you have them.

Turn on radio and listen for instructions from public safety agencies. Anyone hear from the emergency radio network after Loma Prieta? If all the power is down, where does the radio station get the power to broadcast? Lay in an emergency Parcheesi game.

Donít use the telephone except for emergency use. See the part about the radio. You wonít have to use much will power to hold down your telephone calls.

Portable radio with extra batteries. Those Nine Lives Ray-O-Vacs from 1958 come in handy. You can tune in the radio stations that are running on Ray-O-Vacs.

Flashlight with extra batteries. At last something that makes sense. Check out the Crane Company, in Fortuna, California, to get one of those new LED flashlights.

First Aid Kit -- including specific medicines needed for members of your household. What kind of water are you going to use to wash down the pills.

First Aid Book. Sew that arm back on in no time. See Martha Stewartís website.

Fire extinguisher. Those firestorms can reduce property values all across the neighborhood.

Adjustable wrench for turning off gas and water. Easily accessible under the basement rubble, or possibly in the trunk of the wifeís car, buried somewhere at the airport.

Smoke detector properly installed. Your tenants will want to know in advance that they are about to become crispy critters.

Portable fire escape ladder for homes/apartments with multiple floors. Ever tried to climb down a flexible ladder? Youíre better off jumping from the third floor.

Bottled water -- sufficient for the number of members in your household. Congratulations, you have held off dysentery for two days.

Canned and dried foods sufficient for a week for each member of your household. Note: Both water and food should be rotated into normal meals of a household so as to keep freshness. Canned goods have a normal shelf-life of one year for maximum freshness. Work hominy and canned hash into your Sunday dinners.

Non-electric can opener. Somewhat conflicting with Ray-O-Vac powered radio above.

Portable stove, such as butane or charcoal. CO asphyxiation is said to be relatively painless.

Matches. Essential to ignition of trace natural gas fumes, leading to insurance recovery, see above, when you are tired of all this earthquake preparedness crud.

Telephone numbers of police, fire and doctor. Excuse me, but if the phone even works, they will all be busy implementing the brilliant suggestions listed above.

Joking aside, a disaster is a disaster. Lay by what you can, in places that make sense, and tie down things which might fly apart and gratuitously kill people. Then hope for the best.

FEMA has an excellent series of fact sheets available at no charge which can help you make realistic preparations for the unthinkable. Print the ones you unthink you need.

When deciding which ones you need you may wish to remember, earthquakes are not unique to California. One of the most powerful earthquakes known to the continent may well have been the one centered on New Madrid, Mo., in the early part of the nineteenth century. It caused the Mississippi to flow northwards for a time. See Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi.

Happy preparations.

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