Hurricane Katrina has made one thing clear: If disaster strikes, you could be on your own — for a very long time. After a major earthquake...

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Hurricane Katrina has made one thing clear: If disaster strikes, you could be on your own — for a very long time.

After a major earthquake or other disaster, it could be a week before meaningful, significant government help is available, said Eric Holdeman, director of King County’s Office of Emergency Management.

Imagine a 7.4-magnitude earthquake here, Holdeman said. Unlike a hurricane, it strikes without warning. Families are separated. Homes and buildings collapse. The Alaskan Way Viaduct crumbles. Floating bridges and all major highways are out of commission.

“You tell me — how are we going to come to the aid of people?” Holdeman asked. “How do you move?”

“There’s no way in this type of disaster that we’re going to be able to do a whole lot better” than what people have seen in the wake of Katrina, he said.

So your very survival could depend on how well you prepared for the worst.

It’s a matter of personal responsibility, said Mike Eagan, spokesman for the American Red Cross of King and Kitsap Counties. People need to recognize that “they can’t rely on the government to extricate them from their homes” unless it’s a life-threatening situation, Eagan said.

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Getting people to prepare for a disaster is like selling life insurance to a 17-year-old, one disaster-planning expert said. Too many people think:

It won’t happen.

It won’t be that bad.

I can’t do anything about it anyway.

But now that Katrina has your attention, the experts want you to know this: Yes, it will happen. And yes, you can do something.

Taking one small step toward disaster preparation could go a long way toward ensuring your survival.

Virginia Cyr, 80, watched coverage of Hurricane Katrina with growing concern about the stash of bottled water and canned food in the basement of her West Seattle home.

In an emergency, she’s not sure she could get to her supplies.

“The last time I came down the stairs, it was pretty hard to do,” she said. “I don’t believe I’m prepared, and I’m thinking that I’d better start doing something.”

After the Nisqually earthquake in 2001, Cyr put together the supply of water and food in her basement. She took photos of everything that was important to her so she could make an insurance claim. She started carrying her sons’ contact information with her.

Although Cyr’s preparations barely meet emergency experts’ minimum recommended preparations, she’s better prepared than many.

Surveys find that people tend to overrate their level of disaster preparedness, Holdeman said.

The 6 must-do’s

If you do nothing else,

do these six things

to prepare for a disaster:

• Talk about preparedness

with everyone in your home.

• Have an out-of-area contact.

• Secure appliances and address hazards in your home.

• Create a three-day disaster kit in a duffel bag or backpack.

• Keep your gas tank

at least a quarter full.

• Keep a modest amount

of cash.

Source: King County Office

of Emergency Management

“People say, ‘I have a flashlight — somewhere — some food, and five gallons of water left over from Y2K.’ That’s not what preparation looks like,” he said. “Wishing away the worst-case disaster is not a good contingency plan. What you do today will determine how comfortable you are and how well you survive this.”

You and neighbors may be on your own

The 6.8-magnitude Nisqually quake, on Feb. 28, 2001, injured 410 people and caused more than $2 billion in damage. It was a wakeup call for some, but it left others with a false sense of security.

“The danger is people think that’s the one we’re preparing for,” Eagan, of the Red Cross, said. “The real one will be 10 times worse.”

In such a catastrophe, it will be seven days before meaningful, significant government help is available, Holdeman said. People who are particularly vulnerable in a disaster — because of poverty, disability or language barriers — could number in the hundreds of thousands, he said.

“We’re going to have to spend time on those who emotionally, financially weren’t able to be prepared,” he said.

And that makes it critical that those who can prepare, do.

“If they have to look for people like you and me, it takes away from the people who truly need life-saving help,” Eagan said.

Yet disaster experts try to balance the “you’re on your own” message with another important piece of advice: Meet your neighbors.

A key to survival after a disaster is for neighbors to take responsibility for helping each other out, said LuAn Johnson, a disaster-planning expert who used to run Seattle’s neighborhood-preparedness program.

That requires planning and conversation so that “when the world is turned upside down,” Johnson said, someone thinks to check on elderly neighbors or others who may need extra help.

“Helping each other is always going to be easier than riding it out by yourself,” said Barb Graff, director of emergency management for Seattle. “People say, ‘Who’s got time to meet the neighbors?’ This has to be your moment. [Hurricane Katrina] is the topic over which to meet your neighbors.”

Preparation workshops

Free one-hour clinics, sponsored by Seattle Project Impact and State Farm Insurance, are planned at several Puget Sound-area Home Depot stores through January.

Topics will include how to bolt a house to its foundation and how to secure water heaters, bookshelves and other heavy objects. Call 877-2-BOLT-IT or go to for more information and to find out about additional classes.

The following clinics start at 9 a.m.:

Seattle: Saturday, 115th and Aurora Avenue North

Tacoma: Oct. 15, 7050 Tacoma Mall Blvd.

Tukwila: Nov. 12, 6810 S. 180th St., Tukwila

Everett: Dec. 10, 11915 Highway 99

Kent Jan. 14, 26120 104th Ave. S.E.

Create disaster kit one step at a time

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the idea of creating a disaster-survival kit to sustain you and family or friends for three days or more.

So take it slow, experts advise.

Put a supply list on the refrigerator, and every time you go to the grocery or hardware store, do one thing on the list, Graff said.

The Washington Insurance Council encourages people donating to hurricane-relief efforts to give themselves a “matching contribution,” money set aside to prepare their own homes for an emergency.

Having disaster supplies “is what people get hung up on, all the stuff you could pack a pickup truck with,” Graff said. Instead, think of yourself as a “mobile camper — what’s the basic minimum you’d want to go camping with?”

The official national standard is to have enough food and water for three days. But “that wasn’t half the time it took to get outside assistance” to many hurricane victims in the South, Eagan noted.

Some local experts now suggest that perhaps a week’s worth of supplies is better.

And some say: Why stop there?

Bottled water lines one wall of Paul and Pat Tucker’s garage in Lake City, and each family member has a backpack stocked with food, toilet paper, books, medication and emergency blankets.

The Tuckers keep a helmet, flashlight and sturdy shoes under each bed, and carry cards listing their out-of-state contacts. Pat Tucker plans to give her three grown children emergency kits for Christmas this year, she said.

Their church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, urges members to have a year’s supply of food and 72 hours’ worth of essentials on hand. But recent disasters also drew the Tuckers into a local group called SDART, or Seattle Disaster Aid and Response Teams.

Now their entire neighborhood has a plan.

Despite their preparedness, Pat Tucker said that after watching the hurricane coverage, “actually my husband and I looked at each other and said, ‘You know, we really need to go through our 72-hour kits.’ “

She suspects some of the peanut butter in there has expired.

Jolayne Houtz:; 206-464-3122

Emily Heffter:; 206-464-8246

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