It’s hard to prepare for an emergency, unless you know what kind of an emergency you might have to face.
Here in Ontario, there’s little fear of avalanches, tsunamis or earthquakes.
But residents could face flooding, severe summer storms with hazardous lightning, tornadoes, blizzards, ice storms, power outages, fire, train derailments, chemical spills, and epidemics.
“This time of year, the concerns are really freezing rains and ice storms, causing power outages, but also snow melt, and localized flooding,” said Rob Heffernan, training and promotion co-ordinator at County of Simcoe Emergency Management.
“Intense localized rainfall events also have the potential to cause a lot of damage.”
Heffernan joined Astrid Vig-Bergsma, an emergency management committee co-ordinator, and representatives of the South Simcoe Police at a special emergency preparedness presentation for families this week.
There were pamphlets prepared by the Government of Canada, outlining the various risks and how to prepare; information for kids that included colouring books and activities; and videos that invited the public to “Name that Disaster,” from the 1985 Barrie tornado to the massive ice storm of 1998.
Being prepared means planning.
“We ask people to know the risks in the area, make emergency plans, evacuation plans, contact lists,” said Heffferna. It's important to be prepared for any emergency, “year-round.”
A key part of that preparation is understanding that, in a widespread emergency, it may take 72 hours for emergency responders to provide assistance and relief.
Having a 72-hour emergency kit can be crucial for survival.
“Be prepared to stay in your home to sustain yourself, or have something ready to go in case you have to evacuate,” said Vig-Bergsma.
A typical kit includes:
- a wind-up or battery-powered radio;
- wind-up or battery-powered flashlight;
- extra batteries;
- candles and matches;
- first aid kit;
- manual can-opener;
- non-perishable food (canned goods, energy bars, dried food, etc.);
- at least two litres of water per person per day for the full 3-day period;
- extra keys to the car and house;
- a list of contacts;
- copies of important documents;
- a supply of prescription medication and copies of the prescriptions
Kits should be checked at least once a year, and updated, replacing expired foodstuffs and water, updating contacts, medication and other information. And they should be kept handy, both easy to find in an emergency, and easy to grab in an evacuation.
Imagine a major power outage, Vig-Bergsma said. “ATMs aren’t working. No money. You can’t cook dinner. It’s pitch dark. Can you find your can opener? Can you find your water? Put it in one spot, so you can find it.”
If required to evacuate, include a change of clothing and footware, sleeping bag or blanket for each family member, plus toilet paper and other personal care items, garbage bags, safety gloves, basic tools (hammer pliers, screwdrivers, etc.).
“And the same for pets – pets often get overlooked,” Vig-Bergsma noted. Pet food, a leash, a record of shots and any medication should also be part of the kit.
As part of the library presentation, visitors could enter a draw to win a Red Cross 72-hour emergency kit, in a handy backpack.
Vig-Bergsma noted that getting households to prepare an emergency kit has been one of the toughest challenges.
“We’re not getting the message across,” she admitted, noting that many residents feel, “It hasn’t happened yet, so why do I need it?”
The answer is simple: Police, Fire and other responders may not be able to provide assistance for up to 72 hours. Bottom line, Vig-Bergsma said, families should “know the risks, have a plan, have a kit.”
It's not difficult to prepare a family emergency plan, and it can be vital in time of crisis.
In an emergency, family members may be widely scattered, at work or at school. How will members contact each other, and reconnect?
The emergency plan should start with the home, and show all possible exits – with a main exit route and an alternate for each room.
Families should identify a safe place where everyone will meet, if the home must be evacuated, or if it isn’t possible to get home in an emergency situation.
Every family member should have a list of emergency contact numbers – including one outside of the area, in case of widespread power outages.
Parents need to be aware of procedures at their children’s daycare or school, and look into authorizing a designated person to pick up the children, in case they themselves can’t get there.
As for animals, remember that in an evacuation, most public shelters are not equipped to take pets. Identify a pet-friendly hotel or boarding facility, a friend or family member who could care for your pet in an emergency.
For more information, see www.GetPrepared.ca, and “be prepared, not scared,” said Heffernan.