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The next big one: San Francisco couple makes earthquake preparedness fun

Emily and Rob Peters invite friends over every year to instruct their kids in staying safe—while eating cioppino and drinking wine by candlelight. | Source: Video by Jesse Rogala

For most people—even seismically active San Francisco—earthquake preparedness is a dull and morbid topic. It’s a set of boring errands that can also feel a bit like planning your own funeral arrangements. 

Sure, there might be a few dusty jugs of Crystal Geyser in the garage or the back of the closet, but who feels like checking if they expired in 2019? Who even buys AA batteries anymore?

Unfortunately, these are things that people in the Bay Area should think about, rationally and regularly. But it’s possible to make it fun. For Emily Peters, earthquake-preparedness dinners are the best way to get people ready for the Big One—tourniquet demo included—without grossing them out too much or turning them into paranoid preppers.

Typically, Peters invites people over on or around April 18, the anniversary of the 1906 earthquake and fire that obliterated much of San Francisco. This year, Peters put together a bonus party in late June, evaluating the adults’ survival skills while instilling good sense in their kids. 

Rob Peters quizzes adults and children alike in attendance at the dinner party of their emergency knowledge with prizes handed out to the winners.

She and her husband, Rob, have been doing this for the last 17 years.

“It’s a way to celebrate the city coming back from the ashes and also to prepare our friends and family for the next Big One,” Peters said. 

General emergency guidelines, like what to do if the smoke detector goes off or if they see a friend playing with matches, are built into the kids’ lesson. For the adults, questions are more specific and take the form of a quiz.

The dozen or so participants got a point for having scissors or a multitool on them and points for carrying cash. Could anyone estimate how long it would take to walk home within 10 minutes? Can they find their way to the airport on foot without GPS? Are their smartphone settings configured so that a stranger could reach their emergency contact? (This is easy to set up on an iPhone.) 

The victor won a roll of Ironforce duct tape, wrapped in a bow—a heavy-duty item, to be sure, but helpful for getting a tourniquet to stay in place.

A young attendee of Emily and Rob Peters' earthquake preparedness dinner party mixes her dessert manually.

Of course, it’s a dinner party. Everyone sat for a candlelit meal—both for the lovely ambiance as well as to replicate eating without electricity. Cioppino, one of the most enduring San Francisco dishes, was the star, along with plenty of wine and strawberry shortcake for dessert. 

Over the years, many attendees have had children, who tend to eat dinner early, so a candlelit dinner in late June happens while it’s still daylight outside. But that just means the kids get one last activity while the grownups relax: beating the whipped cream for the shortcake by hand.

Astrid Kane can be reached at