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How to camp in your house during the great Cascadia earthquake

FEMA produced a video with tips on how to prepare for a major earthquake. (FEMA)

It’s fun to imagine camping at home. You could set up a tent in the family room, hang your food from the kitchen light fixture, and build a fire in the bathtub. It’s fun until you have to do it after an earthquake.

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This may be the reality for many if the so-called “Big One” ever strikes the Pacific Northwest.

We don’t know if the magnitude 9 rupture on the Cascadia fault will strike in 100 years or next Tuesday. What we do know is that the earthquake will likely sever electricity, sewer, and running water. Most people are expected to survive, but they’ll probably smell a little.

Jim Buck is a retired structural engineer and former Republican state representative who gives speeches on precisely such a scenario. His presentation “Camping in Your House” is in high-demand throughout the Pacific Northwest. If your house is habitable after the quake, it may be the best option.

“It takes you a week to figure out that you got punched in the mouth really, really bad,” Buck told Oregon Public Broadcasting. “It takes another week to get the stuff together to bring to make you feel better. And then it takes a week to unload it.”

That’s a far cry from smores and ghost stories. Because emergency services may take a while to reach those living outside of urban centers, self-sufficiency and preparedness are key. According to Buck, the first step is assessing whether your house is safe to camp in, and repairing any loose materials in danger of failing during aftershocks.

Preparing for life after the earthquake

Buck recommends pitching a tent inside to help keep warm. You probably wouldn’t need to ruin your floor by hammering any stakes in. Once the tent is up and you’ve established a password, it’s crucial to have a means of purifying water, preserving food, and disposing of feces, preferably away from your home.

Modern indoor plumbing was hardly a thought the last time a magnitude 9 earthquake ruptured around these parts in the 1700s. Geologists theorize that the Cascadia subduction zone — which stretches more than 600 miles from Vancouver Island to northern California — goes off every 200 to 1,000 years. Anyone who has ever waited for the cable guy to show up likely understands the uncertainty that inspires. Might as well create an emergency kit in the meantime.

Earthquake expert: We can’t predict or warn you about the ‘Big One’

Beyond tasty snacks, preparing for the great camp out should also include items such as duct tape, plastic snap ties, tarps, batteries, radios, flashlights, and separate buckets for waste, which can be disposed of in septic tanks by removing the tank lid. Why separate buckets?

“Keeping them separate keeps the smell down,” Buck notes.

Good to know.

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