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Even so, aren't we lucky to live in California? Great beauty,weather and ... earthquakes? Yes, I've bragged to folks in otherparts of the country that at least we Californians don't need toworry about hurricanes, massive floods and tornadoes. I mean, whenis there NOT a story about those natural occurrences in thetelevised news? We watch people clinging to rooftops as trees andcows sail gaily by, and we smugly say, "Yep! Give me an earthquakeanytime. These little tremors? Straighten a picture or two on thewall and we're done!" Right?

Well, not always.

California is part of a seismically active region known as the"Ring of Fire." Beginning low in the southern hemisphere in thePacific Ocean, southeast of Australia, it runs northward along thecoast of Asia, bends at the top and hooks back down a southerlyroute along the coast of North America, ending some 25,000 mileslater at the southern tip of South America. Technically, the areais more of a horseshoe shape than circular or "ring" shaped, butapparently the "Horseshoe of Fire" didn't sound quite as snappy. Awhopping 90 percent of the world's earthquakes occur in thisarea.

The Ring of Fire consists of huge tectonic plates thatslip-slide around and collide with one another, although that'sprobably not the technical term earthquake experts would use. Butthose plates are capable of doing huge amounts of damage when theyget active, which is often – and not all of the damage isphysical.

Personally, I'm a nervous wreck whenever I feel the slightestquiver. That's because sometimes the slightest quivers becomeviolent, and the loss of control of one's immediate habitat makesbelievers out of atheists. During the 45 years I've lived inintimate proximity of some major faults, I've never becomecomfortable with earthquakes. I lose all common sense andregrettably utter what I have come to think of as my "earthquakeword of choice." It's not a word for family newspapers so I won'tdisclose it here. Suffice to say my choice word rhymes with "hit,"and if the ground moves I will use it, even if the Pope ispresent.

Lately, though, I've been thinking about replacing my choiceearthquake word with another word, which I will get to in a minute.Because wringing my hands and swearing like a truck driver won'tget anybody safely through an earthquake and its aftermath.

I'm not the only one that figured this out. A grassroots effortthat now enjoys support from the Department of Homeland Securityfeatures a nine-step program called "Map Your Neighborhood" or MYN.Because emergency responders could never assist everyone who needsimmediate help in the aftermath of a large-magnitude earthquake,this sensible program was developed to give survivors a betterchance of making it through the harrowing after-effects of aquake.

These customized neighborhood disaster plans help neighbors helpeach other with vital concerns in a catastrophe: knowing where andhow to shut off gas lines that may spark post-quake fires;alleviating panic by checking on children, the elderly or infirmand even pets left home alone due to a parent or caretaker beingmiles away when an earthquake strikes.

I learned about MYN through Morgan Hill resident Sherry Purserwho, last December, earned the Mick McDonald Volunteer of the YearAward for Morgan Hill from the Santa Clara County EmergencyManagers' Association. Sherry has been busy spreading the word.Peggy Mahurin, my neighbor across the street, and I will soon hosta neighborhood meeting, which will, I hope, give us all a betterchance of surviving the aftermath of a devastating earthquake. Andbecause MYN depends on volunteers, I hope you'll think aboutbecoming involved in your neighborhood, too. 

You'll find an interview with the program's founder atFor information on MYN in your area, simply e-mail and she'll provide moredetails.

While our hearts and prayers are with our friends in Japan, hereat home there is work to be done. Which means I can soon retire mychoice earthquake word because I'm getting a new one:"Preparedness." Yep; works for me!

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