Medical and Sanitation

First Aid Training

More important than any equipment that you can buy and store away is the knowledge that you have stored away in your head, so the most important thing you can do is to take a good first aid class. The American Red Cross offers these in just about every community everywhere, but you have to take the initiative to sign up and take it. Of course it's best if everyone in the family takes such a class, but having one person do it is a good start. Just make sure that the first person who takes it is the person most likely to be home. If Dad works long hours while Mom stays home taking care of the kids, it's Mom who needs that class the most.

If you have any doubt that training is your number one priority for medical preparation, just ask yourself this: If you were hurt, would you rather be treated by an experienced EMT who did not have any special equipment available, or by someone with no training and a whole truckload of gear?

In Santa Clara County, the local chapter is the American Red Cross, Silicon Valley Chapter, and you can register right on their web site.

A first aid kit

Image of a first aid kit.
A basic first aid kit

Once you get some training, then having a first aid kit can be useful. Everyone should have one anyway, but many of us don't, so let this be your motivation to get one. There are two main approaches to this:

I suggest a small first-aid kit in each of your vehicles, with a more complete one at home. Remember that you're not stocking a hospital and you're not preparing for brain surgery; you just want to have the basics that you need to provide first aid with a special focus on the sort of injuries that are likely after an earthquake, i.e. trauma.

Since it make take hours or days to get professional medical help after an earthquake, you want the things necessary to handle major problems like broken bones (expedient splints, lots of bandages), but don't underestimate the value of being able to treat the little things too. A small cut or splinter may seem minor, but if you really need to spend an hour or two digging through dirty rubble to retrieve supplies or rescue somebody, failing to properly clean and protect that small cut could result in a nasty infection. With the normal medical system stretched thin that's the last thing you need to deal with, so don't scrimp on the band-aids and alcohol wipes.

As with everything else, something is better than nothing, so don't get so hung up on choosing the "perfect" first aid kit that you never buy anything at all. A small $15 kit that you actually have when you need it will be far more useful than that $250 kit that you were saving up to buy someday.

Waste containers and disinfectant

You may have heard that the engineers who build our municipal sewer systems save more lives than doctors do. Because I count both doctors and engineers among my friends I'm not going to take a position on that argument, but the point is that proper sanitation is critical to protecting health. If either the water system or the sewers stop functioning after a quake, you'll have learn to maintain this sanitation without being able to flush.

Keeping clean is pretty straightforward if you think it through ahead of time:

The most important special case is human waste (poop), and that has such a high potential for disease transmission that handling it requires a bit of special preparation. You can use a 5-gallon bucket lined with a plastic bag and topped with a toilet seat, or for a bit more comfort you can use a purpose-built camping toilet, but either way you need a place to empty it and clean it. That means a shovel to dig a hole, and some (fresh) bleach to clean all the surfaces. It wouldn't hurt to have a bit of powdered lime to help keep the odors down, either.