Melissa Kaplan's
Herp Care Collection
Last updated January 1, 2014

Quake! Living On The Fault Line

©1994 Melissa Kaplan


{As the Midwest began to dry out from the incredible Summer flooding, Southern California burned under the onslaught of multiple firestorms. And, while the digging out and rebuilding was taking place, the earth shook, collapsing entire buildings, severing critical transportation routes into and out of the city, resulting in power and phone outages from fallen lines, fires burning out of control, and the streets flooded from the ruptured water mains. Just another day in the life at the century's end.

While most people concentrated on saving their homes, salvaging what belongings they could and trying to help others, there was another population that suffered greatly - the captive and wild animals. Scenes that stick out in my mind are things like:

The Eaton Canyon Nature Center disappearing in the Alta Dena fire. When staff got to the facility around 4:00 a.m., the fire crews were already choking on the intense heat and smoke. Despite heroic efforts, the non-releasable animals housed in the Nature Center perished. When the fire department let the staff back up to the site they found it impossible to tell where the buildings had been.

Pet store owners finding shocked, dead and dying animals as they surveyed the damage caused by the quake and its aftershocks to their stores.

Homes collapsing, floors buried under several feet of debris from the roof, ceiling, contents of cabinets, tossed furnishings, toppled and crushed animal enclosures.

While the city service agencies were trying to provide essential services, there was one organization that quietly worked in the background, providing information and assistance to herp owners, humane societies and animal control agencies. The Reptile & Amphibian Rescue Network (RARN) in Los Angeles began getting calls as soon as phone service was restored. From pet store owners trying to find out how to treat shocky animals, to rounding up enclosures for people with suddenly loose animals, to giving advice on how to just hang on for the duration, RARN volunteers also struggled to keep their own herps and RARNs small population of rescued herps provided for. Diane Lee, president of RARN, also became a conduit of information, as the members of the herp community tried to find out how others fared and who needed help.


Things You Can Do
As Diane and I spoke during the week following the quake, we discussed a number of ideas both to minimize quake damage and what to do in the aftermath. While some of these ideas are applicable to quake situations, others may be of use in any emergency situation.

Prevent enclosures from toppling. Screw hooks into the studs in the wall behind the enclosures; run bungee cords from hook to hook, across the front of the enclosures.

Stock up on portable plastic or cardboard carriers. For small animals, that may mean deli cups with ventilated lids or sides which can then be stacked in a larger container for portability. Large animals can be loaded into the kennel carriers used for dogs and cats. Most of these carriers can be taken apart and nested, reducing the amount of storage space needed when not in use..

Smaller snakes and lizards, the ventilation openings on the carriers can be covered with window screen hot-glued into place. Several lizards or snakes may be individually bagged in pillow cases secured with tape or rubber bands (or really plan ahead and sew cloth or cord ties to every bag), then several bagged animals packed in boxes or carriers.

Set aside a stash of plastic food and water bowls, rags, sponges and paper towels.

Reduce fire hazards by turning off all electrical equipment as you empty enclosures when packing up animals. An easy way to do this is to link several enclosures together by power strips or plug all of an enclosure's electrical plugs into a power strip. Then just the strip needs to be turned off, rather than every individual plug unplugged. Or, flip your circuit breakers off to prevent both fire from forgotten heat lamps and power surges destroying electrical equipment (like your computer!) and large appliances.

Keep flashlights, extra batteries and fire extinguishers in several easily accessible locations around your house - including in every room in which you have herps. You should be able to find your way to these easily and automatically in the dark. Keep a set by or under your bed so you don't have to go stumbling around a confusing and debris filled dark bedroom if something happens during the night.

Set aside a stash of food. While killed whole prey might be just a bit difficult to store in a box in the closet, many carnivorous lizards can and will eat canned dog food or softened kibble. While they may not have a clue as to what it is at first, cans of tegu/monitor, iguana/tortoise and turtle foods can be stored and fed out. If you have garden room, plant some greens for your herbivores.

Set aside enough drinking water to last for at least a week, more if possible. Remember that your animals need water for drinking and soaking. If you are lucky enough to have access to a swimming pool, use that chlorinated water to wash enclosures and feed bowls, rinsing them only with some of your fresh water. (Rotate your supply of water bottled in plastic containers as it begins to taste like plastic.)

If you don't already have one, put together a first aid kit for your animals. Consider items such as povidone-iodine, syringes, feeding tubes, triple antibiotic ointment, blood clotter, clippers, gauze pads, adhesive tape, Vetrap®, sterile saline, kaolin, liquid skin, scissors, tweezers, forceps, instant cold and instant hot packs, elastic bands, plastic garbage bags, 50-50 mix of Gatorade® and water.

Hit the thrift stores or your relatives for old blankets, towels, sheets and pillowcases. The former can be used to wrap around enclosures to help retain heat. Sheets are multipurpose--cover enclosures, tear into bandages or use as substrate for burrowers. Pillowcases are great for smaller lizards and most snakes. Duffel bags and large soft luggage zippered bags can be used for large snakes and lizards. Make sure that you have what you need to make them escape-proof!

Look out for yourself - without you, your animals are going to have a tougher time. Make up a stash for yourself: sturdy clothes, shoes, extra socks, a sweater, light jacket and rain suit. Include a spare pair of glasses (or contacts and solutions), toiletries, prescription medications, and your own first aid kit also including aspirin, bandages for sprains, splint and sling, hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol, burn ointment, etc. Include a small bottle of household bleach and an eye dropper to purify tap water. Rotate medications regularly so nothing gets stale dated.

Put aside foods and water for you and your family. Hit the camping or survival stores for food, the bottled water companies or the do-it-yourself bottling available at most supermarkets. Allow at least a gallon a day per person.

Sleeping bags, ground tarps, tent, battery-operated lanterns and radio, eating and cooking utensils, all available at surplus, thrift, sport and camping stores.

Keep a list of emergency and family phone numbers with your gear. Pre-designate one or two people to check on you in case disaster strikes when you are not at home, people who can temporarily look after your animals to at least make sure they are safe. Provide these folks with a release for them to authorize emergency or other veterinary care in your absence, with a copy in your file at your vet's. Leave an easily found list of all your animals, their location, and their basic needs for your emergency caretakers. This will not only help them remember what needs to be done during a stressful period for them, but will ensure that all of your animals are accounted for.

It can get expensive, putting aside goods "just in case." But you can work at it slowly, doing a bit at a time. The better equipped and prepared you are, the better able you will be to deal with your animals, family, neighbors, and yourself.

One last suggestion: designate an out-of-state family member or friend as an information coordinator. Everyone can call that person to convey their situation, and the coordinator can relay that to the other callers. Consider helping to set up something similar in your neighborhood as well as for just your own family.

In situations such as flooding, earthquakes, tornadoes and hurricanes, there is absolutely nothing one can do once Nature has taken matters into her own hands. When bad things happen, we seem to need to place blame somewhere-- anywhere. But with natural disasters, there is no one to blame. So be prepared. Don't put yourself in a position of having to blame yourself for not doing something you could have done to possibly lessen the damage and loss. There's going to be too much to do for you to spend any time kicking yourself in the shin, playing shoulda-woulda-coulda. Just do it.

Have some ideas you'd like to share? Send me your ideas and suggestions for publication in an online Emergency Tips file. If you've been through hurricanes, tropical storms, tornadoes, fires and floods, let us know what helped, and what didn't.


One neighbor has loaded all the extra clothing, a few toys and books, sleeping bags, food and water, and medications for herself, husband and two children in a large plastic garbage can. It sits in the corner of their bedroom, topped by a circular piece of wood and covered to the floor with fabric that coordinates with their bedding and curtains, doing double-duty as an occasional table with a lamp next to a chair.

Originally published in North Bay Herp Society'e News from the North Bay, February 1994

For more information on quakes and quake safety, check out the The Seismic Safety Zone and the U.S. Geological Service's Earthquake Information for Northern and Southern California, Worldwide, and Earthquake Info For Kids

Related Information

Animals & Earthquake Predictions

Seismic Activity & Animal Behavior

Earthquake Prediction: Methodology and Feasibility

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