While we worry about big, earth-shattering calamities, the reality is we are more likely to experience more mundane emergencies such as fires and floods.
But when the ground moves anywhere in Canada, it grabs our attention and reinforces the need to be prepared to face disaster.
In the past month, there were 235 measurable tremors recorded in Canada, two of which were a magnitude 5.0. According to Natural Resources Canada, Victoria has a one-in-three probability of a damaging earthquake in the next 50 years. Being on the coast, we are also vulnerable to floods caused by tsunamis.
The prevailing recommendation from emergency officials is that people should be prepared to be self-sufficient for 72 hours.
“Typically, first responders will prioritize their response,” says Teron Moore, a spokesman with Emergency Management British Columbia. “Their first priority after a major disaster is to save lives and protect property.” Which means they’ll be putting out fires and coping with the critical injuries.
The first 72 hours after an event is the toughest time because regular sources of food and water may be cut off. Water pipes could be broken and grocery stores damaged or destroyed.
To survive, we need to be prepared. And for that, the Canadian Red Cross suggests having two kits ready: a Grab-and-Go kit and a Survival-in-Place kit.
“The Grab and Go kit is one that someone would need for 24 hours,” says Jocelyn Skrlac, a personal emergency preparedness specialist with the Canadian Red Cross. “This should include medication, some snacks, passport or other identification, credit cards, money, personal information and a list of emergency contacts.”
She stresses the kit would be used in any disaster — fire, flood, storm or earthquake.
The larger, Survival-in-Place kit would contain the items necessary for self-sufficient survival.
Water and food are the two top items in any maintenance kit for the house. The rule of thumb is an average person can survive on two litres of water per day.
Typically, people store water in plastic containers because glass can break easily when knocked over. Food should be non-perishable.
But stored food and water deteriorate over time. Moore says some people replenish their emergency stock once a year.
“We have people who donate their food to food banks every Christmas,” says Moore. “It’s a win-win situation. The less fortunate get a meal and you get fresh food for another year.”
Stored water can be poured on plants or other uses.
Stored water might have a plastic smell and taste, but it is still safe to use, says Skrlac. She suggests people keep the water and use bleach or a water purifier in emergencies. Water deemed less than desirable for drinking can be used for cooking, personal hygiene or washing.
People also need to be prepared to help others.
“Once you have secured the needs of your family, you should then check on your neighbours,” says Moore. “Plan to include work gloves, dust masks and sturdy footwear in your emergency kit. In a disaster, there will likely be broken glass, smoke and rubble to deal with.”
Other universal items include blankets, candles, flashlights and cash in small denominations — ATMs and banks might be out of operation for a time.
People in rural areas likely have generators to deal with the occasional power outage, but Moore says they are too costly to expect people living in cites to have as part of their kit. People who must keep medication cool should include an insulated cooler. Depending on the type of freezer (upright or chest) and the number of times the door is opened, food can potentially remain frozen for at least 72 hours. Partial thawing and refreezing will affect the quality of some food, but the food will still be safe to eat. Keep an appliance thermometer in the freezer. Always discard food that has come in contact with raw meat juices. Never taste food to determine its suitability.
Fuel for gas-powered generators should be replaced every six months. The old fuel can be safely used in a car — but be sure there is no sediment in gas stored in a metal container.
Moore suggests using common five-gallon buckets to store emergency kits. When empty, the multi-purpose buckets can be used to fetch and store water or as an emergency toilet.
People not comfortable with an open toilet should consider including a camping toilet in their kit. These portable potties have a holding tank at the bottom. Inside the holding tank are chemicals that deodorize and help break down solid waste and toilet paper. When the tank is full, it can be emptied via a hose that attaches to a sewer connection at a dump station.
Add toilet paper and a shovel to the list of supplies in your emergency kit.
Emergency kits are available from the Red Cross as well as commercial suppliers. Skrlac suggests the kits her organization sells make nifty Christmas or birthday gifts for hard-to-buy-for folk.
Kits can be costly, so it makes sense to buy a few items at a time to soften the blow.
Skrlac also suggests parents check with their kids’ schools or child-care facilities about their emergency protocol. Will they stay in place, or will children be moved to an alternative gathering point, such as a municipal hall or recreation centre? Who will be looking after them?
“Remember, teachers have children too.”
Not surprisingly, the Red Cross also recommends including your blood type with other important information. It would speed up medical response if a blood donation if needed.
It’s also a good idea to send emergency contact information to an out-of-town relative or friend. Local contacts caught up in the same disaster would be unable to provide help.
“The next emergency won’t likely be the big one,” says Skrlac, “but it’s good to be prepared for it. People need to recognize the common risks in their area — be it storms, fires or toxic spills — and do a mental rehearsal of what they have to do to survive each one.”
Where to get emergency preparedness information:
Government of Canada: getprepared.gc.ca
Earthquakes Canada: earthquakescanada.nrcan.gc.ca/index-eng.php
Province of B.C./Emergency Management B.C.: embc.gov.bc.ca
Red Cross: redcross.ca
Municipal emergency management organizations have emergency plans in place and regularly train volunteers to lead local efforts in emergencies.
City of Victoria/Emergency Management: victoria.ca/EN/ main/departments/emergency-management
District of Saanich: saanich.ca/sep
People with special needs can get preparedness advice from
B.C. Coalition of People with Disabilities:
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