Before Hurricane Katrina hit, some extra water and fresh batteries seemed like enough to ride out a storm. But following the recent disaster, more and more people are taking emergency preparedness a lot more seriously.
Since Katrina, demand for personal survival kits in other disaster-prone areas has spiked,
"They're actually somewhat panicking," says Sherri Heitz, founder and chairperson of Quake Kare in Moorpark, Calif.
Demand at the company went from 25 orders a day for the family home survival package to 500 orders a day, Bowen says. There are kits to carry in cars, and kits to keep pets alive.
"I think we all thought that, at least if it was a natural disaster, somehow, somebody was going to come take our hand and take us to safety," Heitz says. "And (it's) unbelievable that it can take a week or so."
The rush to stock up, Bowen says, isn't just a reaction to Katrina. In California, it's also an acknowledgement that a "big one" is very likely. A catastrophic earthquake is expected to strike within the next 20 years.
A worst-case scenario has a big quake killing 18,000 people in Los Angeles and leaving 700,000 homeless. As with Katrina, Bowen says, long-term homelessness would be a huge problem.
"That's an issue," agrees Richard Andrews, the former head of the California Office of Emergency Services, "that we could well face in the aftermath of a major earthquake, particularly if it affects a metropolitan area."
The old rule was to prepare to go it alone for three days, Bowen says. But Katrina has changed that.
Maria Shriver, wife of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, says, "We can't rely on the government to be there 24, 48, or even 72 hours later."
It's uncertain, says Bowen, if the federal government's response to Katrina will force California emergency officials to re-think their disaster plans. And it's the uncertainty that's making personal survival kits so popular.
One couple taking that to heart is Darren and Julie Irby of Falls Church, Va.
He's a member of the Red Cross Rapid Response Team that helped in Katrina's immediate aftermath.
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