There is going to be an earthquake on May 1st. Oh, sure - you immediately think I have turned into one of those crazed fanatics who thinks he can predict disasters with absolute accuracy. What I really mean to say is our neighorhood is planning an earthquake for May 1.

Maybe that sounds even more outlandish.Actually, it's just a practical attempt to get people to be prepared for any eventuality. A better way to put it might be to say it is an earthquake drill. That's what the schools call it when they put our kids through it.

But in our neighborhood they don't call it a drill. They say, "An earthquake will occur on May 1, and now we'd like to hear from those who are in charge of it."

So we've been doing lots of things to prepare - like teaching our kids how to turn off the electricity, gas and water at the main switches and valves. Like organizing several first-aid kits for the house and cars. Like arranging to have our water heater firmly anchored, because a water heater breaking loose is one of the most common causes of fire in an earthquake.

And lots of other things.

After dinner we sat around and read the phone book as a family. Now that sounds like an exciting activity. I don't mean that we read the names - we just read the two pages of emergency preparedness information at the beginning, located right after the zip codes.

Finally, the other night we had our own family drill. We talked about emergency techniques - such as getting under a table, desk or bed, away from windows. If you're in a high-rise office building or in a crowded store, avoid elevators and don't run for the exits, because that's what everyone else does and you might be trampled.

If you're outside, avoid high buildings, tall trees and power lines. If you're in a car, go for an open area and stay inside.

After we talked about such items we had an actual drill. We climbed into our beds with our shoes close by and announced an earthquake, then practiced evacuating the house after it was over. We sat at the kitchen table and practiced crouching under it on our knees while holding onto a table leg.

Then we jumped into the car and went for a ride, trying to determine where we should stop in the event of a tremor. It was an interesting experiment because we noticed for the first time those streets with power lines and tall trees and those without.

Then we went home and had strawberry shortcake, and thought about how odd it is that we worry about earthquakes now instead of hurricanes. In New England we lived through some hurricanes and knew the kind of damage they could cause.

Earthquakes have always seemed too much to believe because most Utahns have experienced only small tremors - unless they used to live in California - or unless they are old enough to remember the last major one in 1934 - and I'm not!

So we tend to think it can't happen. Our kids, who grew up with hurricanes, have had a hard time taking all of this seriously. I have to admit that we've done a lot of laughing while we've gone through the exercises.

So we point out to them all the houses that seem precariously perched on jagged edges of earth and wonder what would happen to them in the event of a good tremor.

We point out the large vent in our front yard, hidden in the spring by a weeping willow tree, connected to a reservoir that runs under our own street!

Jokingly, we've said that what we really need is a life raft anchored to our deck so that we can jump into it when the vent is ruptured.

OK, so we're not obsessed with possible disaster. But in light of the known Utah fault lines, it doesn't hurt to do some advance thinking to train us to react more quickly and intelligently if one does hit - and maybe then we would even help others.

So my whole family has become earthquake-conscious - and it's comforting to know that in spite of life's many surprises, including earthquakes - there is one date for which we are definitely prepared - May 1st.