Preparing for Emergencies

Welcome to the South Pasadena Amateur Radio Club’s emergency preparation page, a collection of resources shared by SPARC members. We hope these guides and tips will motivate us all to take steps now that will help our families, neighbors and community later. Being ready isn’t just about surviving “the Big One.” Windstorms, small quakes, heavy rains and random power outages can easily disrupt daily life and are more likely to occur. Preparing for more mundane “little ones” will provide some extra peace of mind. If you know of a resource that should be posted here, share it with us. Thanks!

Table of Contents

Comprehensive Guides

Putting Down Roots in Earthquake Country
This is one of the post popular and widely-distributed booklets focusing on quake prep. It is a publication of the USC-based Earthquake Country Alliance. The ECA administers the Great California Shakeout which takes place every October at many schools and workplaces.

Los Angeles County Emergency Survival Guide
The county offers extensive information on its main emergency page, including this PDF guide, available in fifteen languages.

Red Cross – Prepare SoCal
This American Red Cross initiative is designed to help individuals and families prepare for disasters, small and large, by providing tips, tools, and training. Red Cross – Make a Plan is a big-picture guide with a more general focus. – Make a Plan
A guide from the Department of Homeland Security similar to the Red Cross version. Includes some helpful PDFs you can print and keep on hand. FEMA – Are You Ready? is a 203-page PDF covering pretty much any scenario you can think of!

Los Angeles Times – Quake Tips
If the above guides feel overwhelming, start with this condensed and useful list of tips compiled by Ron-Gong Lin of the Los Angeles Times. It contains links to the Earthquake Country Alliance for more detail.

Earthquake Early Warning Apps

Thanks to the ShakeAlert coalition, real-time data from a growing network of seismic sensors can be pushed to mobile phones. Under the right conditions, the following apps could provide as much as a minute of warning to take cover before you feel shaking.

QuakeAlert USA
Published by Early Warning Labs
Download for iOS
Download for Android

Published by Berkeley, this app has an emphasis on citizen science and augments ShakeAlert data with your phone’s own sensors.
Download for iOS
Download for Android

Emergency Kits

The Wirecutter Guide to Preparedness Supplies
A very thorough list, with recommended brands, from experts at the  popular review site

The Trash Can Kit
Storing your supplies in a sturdy trash can is a simple way to keep everything organized and safe. The diagram below suggests stacking supplies according to how often they will need to be replaced.

Graphic from the Los Angeles Times

The Under-the-Bed Box
Keep a small box of key supplies and tools under your bed in case an earthquake occurs while you are asleep at night.

  • • Shoes – Protect your feet from broken glass and sharp objects spread across the floor.
  • • Flashlight and batteries – Keep track of battery shelf life.
  • • Eye protection and/or spare eyeglasses – Sturdy goggles will safeguard your vision. Store spare eyeglasses in a hard case.
  • • Dust Mask – Store in clean, sealable bags.
  • • Water Bottle / Snack Bar – Let’s hope you are not trapped in your bedroom by a collapsed wall or ceiling. But you could be trapped in your bedroom by a collapsed wall or ceiling!
    • Sturdy Gloves
  • • Hard Hat

Preparing Your Home

Bracing and Bolting
Bolting a house to its foundation can prevent catastrophic damage during a major quake. If you rent, ask your landlord if your residence has been seismically retrofitted. If you own your home, call a seismic contractor to determine the cost of having your home braced. This Los Angeles Times article by Steve Lopez has more information.

There is a California state program to subsidize the cost of retrofitting. Sign up to be notified about available grant money at the Earthquake Brace + Bolt site.

You may already have plenty of basic tools, but make sure they will be accessible in an emergency. Are they stored in an organized manner? In a place that you will be able to reach if bookcases or heavy objects fall over? In addition to the basics, consider adding a crowbar, heavy plastic sheeting, duct tape, bungee cords and/or sturdy rope. These items can help with moving heavy objects, cleanup, and sealing broken windows.

Low-E Windows
Certain brands of Low-E thermal pane windows are made with a polyester film that can help prevent breakage. Applying UV-protection film can have a similar effect. Check with your power company to see if they offer discounts or incentives to install these energy-efficient options.

Local hams recommend two brands of gas-powered generators. Honda’s eu 2000i series is a Wirecutter pick and widely available. The Yamaha 3000iSEB has a reputation for producing a clean sine-wave, making it a smart choice to power radio equipment and other electronics.

If you intend to plug a generator into your home’s circuit breaker, you’ll need a transfer switch to protect your wiring and to avoid sending current into power lines that crews might be repairing. Gas generators must be maintained in order for them to work when you need them — read this Wirecutter guide for a quick overview.

Portable power stations are silent and fume-free. You can keep them topped off with AC power before an emergency, but once their charge runs out you’ll need solar panels to recharge them.

Foldable solar panel from Bioenno Energy

The price of solar energy has fallen drastically in recent years. Small portable solar panels can provide sufficient charge for vital electronics, lighting and small appliances. Large panels are a good investment for larger devices and power stations. SPARC members recommend panels, solar controllers and batteries from Bioenno, a supplier in Orange County. (Read more about Bioenno here.)

The BioLite CampStove 2 is a clever wood-burning stove that also generates electricity for personal devices.  

Get a large contractor’s bucket, stock up on toilet paper and buy some Wag Bags. The alternatives are not nice to think about.


Local Notification Systems
Visit this LA County page to sign up for emergency alerts from your city’s police and fire departments. (Click this link for South Pasadena.) Your city may also have Twitter feeds that would useful if the internet is still available.

Make a Family Communication Plan
This PDF from FEMA can help your family decide how you will get in touch during an emergency. Make a concrete plan to locate one another and practice the plan before you actually need it.

When All Else Fails
Of course we’ve got to make a pitch for the value of radio! If the power goes out for long enough, or if the outage is severe enough, you won’t be able to count on cell phones or land lines. The simplest way to incorporate radio into your communications plan is with a set of FRS or GMRS radios — better known as walkie-talkies. Standard walkie-talkies (technically FRS radios) do not require a license. GMRS radios do require a license, but there is no test. You simply fill out a form on the FCC website. Here is a link from outdoor retailer REI on choosing a two-way radio. It focuses on hiking and camping, but the same principles apply.

We hope that you’ll want to take the next step and get licensed as a full-fledged amateur radio operator. Join a local radio club and get hands-on experience operating in a contest or at Field Day. If you want to put your license and equipment to use serving the community, join a chapter of ARES, the Amateur Radio Emergency Service. The San Gabriel Valley is served by ARES LAX Northeast, an active and innovative group that trains regularly and incorporates the latest technology.

CERT – Community Emergency Response Teams in our area

We are fortunate to have several San Gabriel Valley cities with active CERT programs. Many of them provide training to local residents every few months, free of charge. Training covers first aid, CPR and light search and rescue. “You are the help until help arrives.”

Click here to download the revised CERT participant manual released January 2020.

South Pasadena CERT / Facebook /  (626) 403-7300  or email

Pasadena CERT / Facebook / contact City of Pasadena Fire Department Disaster Advisory Council at (626) 744-7276  

San Marino CERT

Altadena CERT / Facebook /  (626) 798-1131  

Alhambra CERT / Facebook /  (626) 570-5190

Monterey Park CERT / municipal site / (626) 307-1271  

Sierra Madre CERT / municipal site / Facebook / contact, (626) 470-7426  

City of Los Angeles CERT / Facebook / YouTube

Here is a final thought courtesy of SPARC member Oliver Dully, K6OLI Assistant District Emergency Coordinator, Training & Education, for ARES LAX Northeast:

We can only prepare to the best of our abilities, train well and have fun in the process. Whatever happens we will deal with in its own good time.   I leave you with one of my favorite quotes by Dwight D. Eisenhower: “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.