Quake kits, block by block
Marilyn Bishop started Cascadia Quake Kits in 2016 out of frustration with what was available to prepare for the expected large earthquake in Oregon. She saw that most earthquake kits on the market are three day kits, but the recommendation for a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake is two weeks. She also saw another problem: Procrastination.
Bishop found so many of her well-meaning, well-informed friends had put off preparing for life after an earthquake. She realized that people needed help, and comprehensive kits would give them peace of mind.
"I've been very aware of the threat of a Cascadia earthquake since the early 2000s. I took some steps to get ready but it was kind of haphazard. The recommendations (for supplies) went from three days to seven days and then two weeks. It's a lot to put together."
Friends and colleagues were feeling the same way, overwhelmed.
"I just kept thinking there has to be an easier solution, someone needs to step in and help people prepare, because our whole region is dependent upon people actually preparing. It'll make a huge difference if there are fewer people requiring assistance. And after three or four years saying 'someone should do this', I just said, 'I'm doing this.'"
What to buy?
Bishop used to be a clinical social worker, and before that, worked in outdoor education, instructing in the mountains. She spent 2016 doing research, studying the recommendation lists put out by NGOs and state agencies. Then she did product testing — which emergency blankets don't rip easily, which headlamp or hand-cranked radio is both a good value and reliable, what's the best system for human waste?
Cascadia Quake Kits became her full-time job. She bootstrapped the business using her own money and reinvesting income.
The walls of her double garage in her Northeast neighborhood are lined with boxes of curios which feel like a prepper's Aladdin's cave. Freeze-dried food with a 25-year shelf life. Tarps. First-aid kits.
The struggle, as with any retailer, is to keep inventory low but adequate. On the one hand, Bishop has to cram everything into her garage and a storage unit in Parkrose. On the other hand, this stuff doesn't go bad, it is designed to sit around unused for years. If your kit comes with a 55-gallon water drum, fill it up and add water preserver and the water should be potable for five years.
Water is the big storage item. The recommendations are for a gallon of water per person per day, factoring in three liters for drinking and the rest for washing and cooking. For a family of four for two weeks, a 55-gallon drum fits the bill. She also has five-gallon jerry cans which are far easier to move around and the water should be rotated annually.
Most people tend to focus on the recommended supplies, but it's important to also spend time developing a plan.
"You should make an emergency plan for your family, including where to meet, and an out-of-Cascadia-zone contact person. Our kits provide an emergency plan template and other resources such as how to prepare our pets."
Without cell phones, Portland will run on radio. "Ham radio operators will be a really vital part of the recovery effort because the other systems aren't going to be working. Volunteers with Portland's BEECN program will use two-way radios to communicate with a local fire station, and a ham radio operator at the fire station will transfer those messages to the emergency command center in Southeast Portland."
Lessons from abroad
The 2011 Christchurch earthquake in New Zealand was also an inspiration, because the architecture is similar to Portland. "Central Christchurch didn't have water and sewer and all that for a year after the earthquake," she says, letting that sink in.
For the Comprehensive kit, she combined the recommendations from the Oregon Office of Emergency Management's publication called Living on Shaky Ground and the American Red Cross Cascade Region's Prepare! guide.
There are three levels of kits, which are built for one to six people: The Starter Kit, starting at $299, the Essential at $499, and the Comprehensive starting at $899. (She offers payment plans.) All kits have the recommended amount of water storage and core safety supplies. The second two contain the suggested twin-bucket toilet system and the Comprehensive comes with freeze-dried food with a 25-year shelf life and basic camping supplies.
Bishop knows that many Portland families already have camping gear. They just need food, water storage and specific safety supplies to make their stash complete. She also sells three-day packs, the kind of basic kit you might need if you are hiking home from work after an earthquake across shattered roads and flooded city blocks.
"This is definitely a mission driven thing. I certainly never had any goals of selling products, so it's kind of funny that I'm that I ended up doing this. I donate a portion of every kit sold to local preparedness initiatives. I'm striving to get as many people prepared as possible and the way to do that is to make it easy. But I'm not a nonprofit, it's got to pencil out too."
E-commerce for now
Her margins are thin. "I have a feeling if I were to have a consultant come in, they would probably school me a little bit! It'll be interesting to see if the tariffs might affect things come January."
She simply buys wholesale from vendors with whom she has built a relationship.
"I've tried to put things in that are quality without totally breaking the bank.
"I've got two kids, we're Portlanders, we're totally community minded. So I think 'Is this what I want my neighbor to have? Is this what I want to have?'"
She still packs the kits by hand and delivers them locally. She ships out of area via UPS. Online sales are crucial, and social media is her advertising medium. The website, designed by Estefania Rivera Vasquez, is clear and simple. "It's got to be easy to grasp, because people are overwhelmed by the process of thinking about preparing, so I don't want the website to mirror that experience."
Many other preparedness websites have "stuff everywhere" and they are fear-based.
Bishop is adamant that Oregonians should not wait for the state to save them.
"Those of us who have the ability to prepare, it's kind of a civic duty. When people are prepared, it reduces stress on the system and allows assistance to be focused on the most vulnerable. I think the state is getting more assertive about encouraging people to prepare, with a goal to have 250,000 households in Oregon Two Weeks Ready by 2025."
"I'm trying to be solution based and community based. I would like to encourage people to talk about preparedness with the people around them. Have a potluck and at some point, just bring up the topic."
Portland is neighborhood-centric when it comes to preparedness. She's part of the Neighborhood Emergency Team program of volunteer-trained community members. Her own block in Northeast Portland gets together to talk about it. They list skills and prepare for who can help whom. They took an inventory of any special needs that people have on the block. "Does anyone have a generator? Does anyone have a tall ladder? Is anyone medically trained? I think it's 93 or 94% of people after a significant natural disaster are rescued by community members not first responders. And that's exactly what it's going to be like after Cascadia. Because even emergency managers say expect to be on your own."
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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