Prepping for the ‘big one’ with Los Altos’ disaster expert

pet emergency kit
Courtesy of Ann Hepenstal
Emergency kits should include provision for every family member, including pets, according to Los Altos emergency preparedness coordinator Ann Hepenstal.

At 8:26 p.m. Dec. 29, a magnitude 2.8 earthquake rattled the Los Altos-Los Altos Hills community. A Loma Prieta-type monster it was not, but the rumbling set some local social media networks atwitter nevertheless.

The Town Crier spoke last week with Los Altos emergency preparedness coordinator Ann Hepenstal for tips on preparing for the next “big one.” The interview below has been edited for clarity and length.

Q: When is the last time this area experienced a significant earthquake?
A: The most significant, of course, would have been Loma Prieta. But there are earthquakes all the time. One can go to the USGS website,, and see recent earthquakes and where people felt them. You can add your own comments about what you felt and experienced. Most of them you don’t notice.
There’s also an early-warning app for Android and Apple called MyShake. But you’re not going to get a day warning or an hour warning; it might be seconds. If you’re lucky, it might be a minute.

Q: What proactive steps do you recommend people take to prepare themselves?
A: Where people sleep, make sure there’s nothing that can fall on them. You want to strap your furniture in place. You don’t want bleach stored on a high cupboard where it could fall off and smash.
Another really simple thing you can do right now is make sure you have a sturdy pair of shoes underneath your bed and a working flashlight. Put them in a bag and attach them, because you don’t want them bouncing around. When they had the magnitude 6 earthquake in Napa a few years ago, a major cause of injury was cut feet, where people stepped out of bed and onto broken glass.

Ann Hepenstal

Q: During an earthquake, what actions should people take to protect themselves?
A: The best thing you can do is drop, cover and hold on. If I’m sitting at my desk and I feel the shaking start or I get the warning, I’m going to immediately dive under my desk, take cover under a sturdy piece of furniture. I’m going to try to do it in a way that covers my neck. If I’m out walking, I’m going to drop to the ground where I am – hopefully not under a powerline. If I’m using a wheelchair or walker, you would lock your wheels or walker. You stay in place and you cover your head and neck. If I’m in bed, I don’t move. I lie in bed, I cover my head with a pillow and I wait until the shaking stops.

Q: What essentials should emergency kits include?
A: You want to make sure you have a water supply. If you don’t already have it, go to the store and buy a couple gallons. Every time you go to the store, buy a couple more because you want to store a gallon per person per day, plus extra for pets. I have a pair of spare glasses. I’ve stashed prescription medicine. I’ve stashed Advil. I’ve thrown in some sun lotion. An N95 construction mask will protect you from dust and smoke. You’ll hear from FEMA to have a kit for three days. It would be much better if you had it for longer, even seven days. To be able to take care of yourself in the first few days after an earthquake or another disaster will be really important.

Q: Is there anything people didn’t immediately anticipate after the 1989 Loma Prieta quake?
A: I think people don’t realize how long it took to get back to normal. You think you just clean up and you do a few repairs and you’re fine, but they had structural damage, and they would go through the process of the permitting and the design and the contractors’ work, and some people had to move out of their homes, and it took a couple years to rebuild everything.
It takes a couple days for the Red Cross to bring in volunteers to run a shelter. It will take a few days for the city government, the state government, the national government to be able to bring in supplies and deliver relief. So individual resilience is very important.

Q: What are some online resources to help yourself and others?
• Review emergency kit suggestions:
• Sign up for emergency notifications:
• View and sign up for emergency training sessions:
• Become a Block Action Team leader:
• Join the Community Emergency Response Team:
• Obtain an amateur emergency radio license:

Similar resources are available in the Los Altos Hills and Mountain View communities as well. Search online for equivalent offerings.

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