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Preparing for the Big Shaker: How Stoic Are Californians?

Does anything bring out the truth about people more than a crisis? Images and reports from the earth quake, tsunami, and radioactivity stricken Japan show a stoicism in those affected that is rare.

When I first came to live in L.A. in 1999 the comparatively light Northridge earthquake of 1994 which registered as a 6.7 was still fresh in people's minds. It was then that I learned how Californians deal with the constant threat of a major shaker: they accept that the big one is getting ready to rock us and prepare for it. Schools drill children on earth quake safety, residents keep earth quake kits in their garages and cars. Such preparation is sensible and it calms the nerves. It makes us feel we have control over what will happen. It takes some fear out of life.

Does preparation ensure that we Californians will respond as stoically as the Japanese when our time comes? No. The culture on this side of the Pacific is different. We see it every year when the wildfires burn out of control and leave their black scars along the edges of Southern California's civilization. Houses turn to ash, people lose everything - and they react emotionally. When disaster strikes Californians cry and seek comfort in the arms of family, friends, and even strangers but they also show resilience and resourcefulness, a pioneer's will to rebuild and to come back stronger.


Lorraine Seal said…
I was a Californian for virtually my whole life, save a handful of childhood years and another six or so in grad school. So I was well used to the sense that a quake could strike at any time. The three 'big ones' of my adult life were the Sylmar, the Northridge and the Whittier. Odd, I think now as I type this, how those names come back effortlessly.

For years, whenever I'd walk into an Irish home and see all those china figurines and all that crystal displayed on mantelpieces and at the edge of shelves, I'd visualise it falling and smashing at the next moderate quake. I kept all my precious glass and fragile pieces in the bottom shelves of low cupboards.

Not that we're immune from earthquakes anywhere, but it's nice to be able to display it now.
reese said…
I wonder how many people living in LA right now were actually living in LA in 1994? And for all those new residents who have never experienced a serious earthquake, how many actually prepare for an earthquake?

On my first day of work in Tokyo, the HR department handed me a small, silver duffel bag and asked me to keep it under my desk. It had a helmet, flashlight, water, and food. Even then, I never thought about earthquakes or prepared for a big one. Must be human nature not to take something seriously until you've suffered through one. But hopefully, you get a second chance.

Lorraine - Thanks for the reminder regarding my precious pieces... I have made a note to get some sticky stuff to anchor them at least a bit better.

Mark - I am not sure about the newcomers. Some might prepare, others not. I remember making friends with two women at a coffee shop when we were first in L.A. and them telling me all about tempered glass, fragile pieces on lower shelves, and water supplies for the garage. Word gets around somehow. The silver duffel bag is a cute idea. Never heard of that one here.

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