Robert Gehrke: If this week hasn’t hammered home the need to be prepared, nothing ever will

Lauren Verrilli, who lives in Salt Lake City’s Liberty Wells neighborhood, had just got up to feed her cat when the ground began to shake.

Her partner, Will Anderson, said it sounded like heavy machinery rolling down the street “and then it got to the point like a jet engine was landing on our house and things really started to move and it dawned on me what was going on.”

Anderson said he told Verrilli to grab the cat, he got their coats and went out the front door, tripping on debris from a brick archway on the front of their home that had partially collapsed.

In addition to the damage to the entryway, Anderson said there was cracking in the walls, dishes fell from cabinets and the house’s foundation sustained damage.

While all of this was happening, I was laying in bed — not wanting to get up. At first, I heard what must have been the same truck Anderson did, then the shaking got more violent in what felt like a swirling motion. Growing up in Utah, we all had earthquake drills. We were taught what to do and I forgot all of it. I froze, grabbing onto the bed, watching the ceiling fan wobble and listening to the windows rattle.

My son ran in and shouted, “OK, time to go!” I told him we aren’t going anywhere and to stand in the doorway — which, it turns out, you’re not supposed to do either.

That might be just slightly better than a friend who sprinted out of his house wearing nothing but a quilt.

If a killer virus coming for your grandpa wasn’t enough to get your attention, maybe the biggest earthquake to hit the Salt Lake Valley in at least a century (with a chemical spill thrown in for good measure) did the trick.

It sure did for me. And drove home the fact that I am woefully unprepared for one emergency — let alone two. I suspect I’m not the only one.

Robert Gehrke

To be clear, I’m not talking about the rushing to the grocery store and knifing an old lady in order to stockpile all of the toilet paper kind of prepared.

It’s more basic things that we should all be doing that, kind of like flossing, we know we should have been doing all along but, for whatever reason, haven’t.

Make a plan for your family so you know what to do — and what not to do, like standing in doorways or streaking out of the house — in case something happens. Cellphones could be knocked out making it impossible to communicate, so make sure you and your families know what to do and where to go.

Put together a 72-hour kit, with clean water (one gallon per person, per day), enough non-perishable food to last three days, a battery-powered radio, flashlight, first-aid kit, a dust mask, wet wipes, garbage bags and tools you might need. And remember to include medicines, pet food, cash, clothes and a camp stove and fuel.

Disaster-proof your home by securing bookshelves or things that might fall. If it fell Wednesday morning, you have a pretty good idea what needs to be secured. Learn how to check your gas lines and shut off the gas and electricity — but only do it when absolutely necessary.

It feels strange to say, but Wednesday morning’s earthquake was about the best wake-up call we could have asked for. Nobody was killed, there weren’t serious injuries and buildings are mostly intact.

It was big enough to get our attention. Not so big as to be devastating to our lives and livelihoods.

But imagine if, instead of a 5.7 earthquake in the early stages of a disease outbreak, it was a 7.5 earthquake when hospitals were already overwhelmed. The dead could have been in the thousands. It’s crucial that, if you are like me, you start to get prepared today. Visit beready.utah.gov for more information.

One more thing: Between COVID and quakes, the past week has been mentally and emotionally exhausting. Everyone’s anxiety is through the roof, thousands are facing economic hardship and uncertainty. That’s especially true for those who fight depression and anxiety when things are less chaotic.

This coronavirus cloud isn’t going to clear up any time soon, so as important as it is to care for our collective physical well-being, it’s also important to look out for the emotional and mental well-being of our friends, family and neighbors.

Socially distance without being socially distant. Stay engaged and if you are concerned you or someone in your life needs help, get help.

You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org or text TALK to 741741. Locally, you can contact the University Neuropsychiatric Institute Crisis Line at 801-587-3000.