There's a 62 percent probability that a quake of magnitude 6.7 or greater will occur in the San Francisco Bay Area by 2032, but fewer than 10 percent of households have disaster plans.

That could be because regional residents are relying upon the government to pluck them from a disaster that could be four times as devastating as Hurricane Katrina.

If that approach to disaster preparation sounds hauntingly familiar, it should.

After 2004's Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Jeanne and Ivan struck Florida in rapid succession, and weather forecasters predicted a similar or worse fate for 2005, people likely to be hardest hit by the next round of storms simply shrugged off the possibility of death, damage and destruction by hurricane.

Before the 2005 hurricane season, a Mason-Dixon survey "Coastal State Residents Fail Hurricane Safety Test" found that 47 percent of those living in states fronting the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico had no storm emergency plan, 26 percent said they didn't plan to prepare for a hurricane and 14 percent said, by golly, if a hurricane comes ashore they weren't going to budge -- come hell or high water.

High-water hell happened.

Hurricane Katrina, the nation's greatest natural disaster ever, cost many their lives and forced others to reexamine their mortality. Californians may be setting themselves up for a far greater calamity.

A flurry of reports released to coincide with the three-day 100th Anniversary Earthquake Conference tell the story.

The United States Geological Survey's "Putting Down Roots In Earthquake Country" says fewer than 10 percent of households have disaster plans, fewer than 10 percent of home owners have taken steps to retrofit their homes and fewer than 50 percent of households have disaster supply kits.

USGS has repeatedly reported a 62 percent probability that a quake of magnitude 6.7 or greater will occur in the San Francisco Bay Area by 2032.

"When The Big One Strikes Again" released at the quake conference says today damage from a quake similar to the 1906 trembler will cost $150 billion, more than four times as much as Katrina's $35 billion.

In another study, the Survey and Policy Research Institute at San Jose State University, San Jose, CA released results of a poll revealing 70 percent of Californians believe a big quake will strike the state and affect them, but only 22 percent say they are well prepared.

Half of those surveyed by the university institute had confidence that the government is well prepared or somewhat prepared to provide disaster assistance after a significant quake, a faith-in-government sentiment that institute director Phil Trounstine found to be "somewhat wishful thinking" given government response immediately after Hurricane Katrina and during the months the followed.

What's worse, unlike a hurricane, which comes with forecast warnings of varying degrees, earthquakes strike with virtually no warning leaving no time to prepare or flee until it's too late.

Because you and your family's well-being and your shelter will become your first line of defense, earthquake experts recommend making family and household concerns earthquake planning priorities. The approach is not unlike preparing for any disaster, from hurricanes to terrorists' attacks.

Start with a copy of the 31-page "Putting Down Roots In Earthquake Country" and going through its handy checklist to make sure you cover each detailed step in preparedness.

Among the steps, the publication advises you to:

  • Develop individual survival skills.
    Practice and learn the "drop, cover and hold on" technique of ducking beneath a sturdy, table or desk and holding onto it to help keep it in place until the shaking stops. Identify other safe spots in your home. It's a myth based on old construction materials and techniques that standing in a doorway is safe. It isn't. Learn Red Cross first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
  • Plan how to respond after an earthquake.
    Keep sturdy shoes and a flashlight next to each bed. Know the location of utility shut offs and when to shut them off. Get fire department training about how to use a fire extinguisher and before or after training, ask about your Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). Install smoke alarms and test them regularly.
  • Plan how to communicate with family, relatives and others.
    Designate a safe place outside your home to meet after a quake. Because everyone may not be home and local connections may be overloaded, establish an out-of-the-area contact person everyone can call to share information. Consider acquiring a satellite phone which will be less affected by earthbound cellular telephone transmission towers. Determine alternate living quarters where you might have to live should your home be rendered uninhabitable. Spend time with your kids and family conducting quake drills and discussing what might happen after a quake and what you should do.
  • Establish recovery plans.
    Keep copies of insurance policies, financial records, medical files and other crucial documents in a secure location, away from your home. Include a household inventory and photos or a video of your belongings. Consider online storage facilities for any files that can be electronically stored.
  • Create or buy disaster kits.
    You should have a large disaster kit with basic survival gear and smaller personal kits customized for individual needs. The basic items include water, food, first aid supplies, clothing and bedding, tools and emergency supplies, and special items for medical conditions.

    Visit the nearest Red Cross office or venture online to learn how to create your own kit or, for procrastinators, buy one ready to go.

    Tomorrow: "Making Your Home Quake Tough"

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