It’s a bird! It’s a bed! Wait, it’s an earthquake shelter!

In the wake of the devastating earthquake in Haiti in January, I’ve been thinking a lot about earthquakes, especially now that I’m living in an old building in San Franciso; a dense city in one of the world’s most earthquake prone regions. Having grown up in California and Japan, earthquakes aren’t unfamiliar to me. I can remember at least two tremblers when I was a kid, where my parents raised us in the middle of the night and lead us under the dining room table as our home rattled around us. My grandmother’s house was destroyed in the Kobe earthquake in ’95, though she fortunately survived unscathed.

After I moved into my apartment in January, I had to re-build my bed frame, as I’ve always done. Bed frames are so cheap and easy to build, yet so expensive to buy. So building one, to me, is a no-brainer, though for this latest version, it occurred to me that an extra beefy frame could also make a nice earthquake shelter too. It makes a lot of sense. First of all, I spend about a third of the day in bed, which means there’s about a one-in-three chance that I’ll be in bed when an earthquake hits (and a better than 50% chance that I’ll be home). Secondly, a bed frame already needs to be fairly sturdy, and the bed frames I build have ample space underneath for storage, which would make an ideal space to take shelter. All I’d need to do differently is to reinforce some parts, and then stash supplies underneath. You can see some of the results below:

Above is a picture of my frame, mid-construction, flipped upside down. It’s basically a two-by-four frame with one-by-six slats on top. As you can see, the main improvement I made was to reinforce the legs in both axes using diagonal supports. Although not visible in the picture, I reinforced the cross beam in the middle since it spans 50+ inches and is only supported on both ends.

Here’s a close-up of one of the corners, where you can see the front head-board post stick up vertically. The 2-foot long leg and head-board post are both attached to both diagonal supports.

Here you can see the bed in its final place and configuration. You can see that there’s ample space underneath. I also placed the bed in the corner, where the walls will hopefully provide a little extra support, and also where I have a 2nd door that might give me an exit route. Under the bed, so far, I’ve stashed a 1 gallon bottle of water, a full 7 gallon water cube filled with tap water (which I’ll need to rotate every so often), and 2400 Calories worth of energy bars. That won’t last me forever, but should I survive the actual quake, that should keep me alive for a couple of weeks.

The next step is to shore up my supplies. For instance, I need to figure out what I’d do with waste products. I also might want a flashlight, some candles (because nothing warms up one’s heart like a candle light), maybe a space blanket, something that’ll make noise (or a SPOT) to alert rescuers, and so on and so forth. Most of these supplies would be good to have, even if my roof doesn’t fall on me.

To some of you, this all might seem like excessive paranoia. But the thing is, in case you haven’t noticed, earthquakes are real. They happen, possibly without any warning. But the other thing is, just a tiny bit of preparation could go a long ways. Reinforcing my bed frame cost less than $10 in extra lumber, and maybe an extra hour of construction time. A $1 container of water could keep you alive for an extra week or two. One of the last guys to be pulled out alive in Haiti survived under a desk, off of soft drinks, booze, and snacks for 11 days. So, the little things are nothing to laugh about, and the question shouldn’t be Why?, but Why not?. Finally, if you’re still not convinced, this rather sobering article about earthquake preparedness in the US might be a good read.

6 thoughts on “It’s a bird! It’s a bed! Wait, it’s an earthquake shelter!

  1. Hey,

    Good to hear from you Ryosan! I just finished your blog and enjoyed it. Thanks for sharing.

    I received an email about how to survive an earthquake from a person who studied the subject worldwide. Seems the Haitian was an outlier because the easiest way to die in an earthquake is doing all the things Americans were taught (getting under desks and such and not getting as near to building perimeter as possible, if not outside completely). If you wish I can fwd the email to you. It’s quite detailed and would make a great post.

    All the best,

    • I think I’ve seen this email, though I question the validity of information I receive in emails of unknown origin…

      I read a lot of articles after the Kobe earthquake in ’95 in which my grandmother’s house was destroyed, and yes, many people were killed or injured by heavy furniture that fell on them. On the other hand, there were numerous documented cases of people being saved by sturdy pieces of furniture that created pockets of space.

      In practice, I don’t think there’s any single optimal survival strategy that works everywhere. In my case, if I’m in my apartment, I have 3 main options. I can go out back into a small courtyard surrounded by old multistory buildings that could collapse on me. Or I can go outside, onto a busy street lined by old buildings, and risk getting hit by a car or falling debris/buildings. Or I can stay inside, under my reinforced bed frame, where I have a chance of surviving even if my roof falls in. Yes, for other people in other environments and scenarios, there may be better options.

  2. It’s a brilliant idea. I would recommend a trip to the home depot. Go to the framing section and buy some construction straps (a couple of dollars.) The weak point of your design is the joints, and only construction straps will do the job of making the structure stiff enough to withstand the force of a roof collapse.

    Nice job.

    • Yeah, I think you’re right about the joints being the weak points. On the other hand, I just completely disassembled it yesterday in under an hour, because it was all just put together with screws. Nails and straps would’ve made it a lot harder to take apart…

  3. Pingback: Journal: September 13, 2010 « Laptop and a Rifle

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