Thursday, 25 July 2013

Emergency Disaster - Are You Prepared?

Because of the recent disasters in Calgary, High River and the horrific event in Lac-Megantic, Disaster Response Teams across the country will be reviewing their procedures to make sure they are prepared to respond at a moment's notice. But that made me think.  We aren't guaranteed immunity so just how prepared are we to handle an emergency situation?

Before I retired, I was Executive Director of a St. John Ambulance Branch, an organization that's a member of Municipal Disaster Response. While the SJA Emergency Responders have the active role during emergency situations, my position demanded I be in the know as to procedure in order to provide the necessary support. I decided this would be a good time to put this background to practical use by presenting an overview of some of the things we can do to prepare for emergencies.

While I'm only providing an overview, the links below will take you to Federal/Provincial Emergency Preparedness sites which have excellent, more detailed emergency planning information.
One of the best places to start is by asking the "what if" question to get thinking about how to tackle some of the more conmmon concerns, such as:
  1. Communication: How would you contact your family members if normal communication was disrupted?
  2. Loss of Power: What would you do if you lost power for more than a day, especially in winter?
  3. Emergency Escape Plan: What if you couldn't leave the house using normal exits - How would you get your family to safety?
  4. Grab and Go Bag: Replacing official documents takes time, work, can cost a lot and adds more stress to an already stressful situation.  If you had to leave your home in a hurry, which documents would you need?
  5. In-Home Sheltering: What if it was safer to stay indoors then venture out. What would you need if this lasted for several days or longer? 
Communication. Not being able to contact other family members during an emergency is a nightmare, the worry of which can actually lead to lack of necessary action.

Cell phones can be a lifeline during an emergency, but they do have limitations that need to be considered. They need to be charged to work and if you're without power, they can't be. Having a car charger as a backup is a really good idea.
During emergencies cell phone use will be increased which may result in dropped calls, so the better idea is to plan on using text messages rather than voice. Taking that one step further, is it possible to create contact groups so that one text could reach all the members of the group - next consideration: what would the message be?
Finally, cell towers can go down during emergencies, in which case the old fashioned landline and phone can keep the lines of communication open.
                                                  telephone rotary
If necessary to call 911, the landline will show emergency dispatch the location where the call originated, something the cell phone may not do. For emergency use, forget about portables, call display, answering machine or any other feature that needs power, since you can't count on them to work when needed. A simple phone, similar to the one shown, is best.
Do you know how the school and/or workplace emergency communication plans work? Are you satisfied the plans are practical? Are parents invited when school emergency plans are practiced? These are just a few of the questions you may want answered.
Loss of Power. The most common emergency situation most of us will have to deal with will probably be loss of power. No power means no lights, no A/C in summer or heat in winter, fridges, stoves and other electrical appliances won't work, elevators are out, ATM machines (debit/credit) won't function etc. Considerations:
  • Light. You need to be able to see to organize time without power. If there are gas lines where you live, don't light any matches or candles until the cause of the power failure is known. Make things easy on yourself by having one place set aside for flashlights, oil lamps, candles and matches so you always know exactly where they are. What light source will you use if the power is out for several days? 
  • Heat in winter. While no A/C in summer makes things very uncomfortable*, no heat in winter is much more serious, especially if it lasts several days. Do you rely on electricity to power your heat source? No power - no heat. What will you do then? Can you set up another safe source of heat? If you plan on using the gas fireplace, do you know how to turn it on manually? *The exception here are people with health problems, the very young and the eldery - there should be a plan in place to keep them safe during extreme heat.                      
    Team Leader / Floor Warden Emergency Unit
  • Food is another area. No hydro for several days means any food in the fridge or freezer will go bad. Since we're mostly talking about loss of power in winter, is there a safe way to store food outside if the weather is cold enough? Then there's the matter of preparing food. The question is what to have and how to prepare it. A campstove or barbecue could be used in a sheltered spot outside or in a garage with the door open (don't forget fuel supply).  Never use indoors to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Keeping a good supply of non-cook foods like crackers, cereals, energy bars, bread, peanut butter, etc. on hand will also make things easier. If there's a way to boil water, instant hot chocolate, cup-of-soup or bouillon are always comforting. 
  • People in rural areas, reliant on wells, will find out their pumps won't work - in more populated areas water may become contaminated so water could become an issue. How much would be needed for drinking, cooking and washing? (Minimum 2L per person per day). In the fall I always buy six of the largest containers of water available and write the year on them. If they're not needed, I use four of them over the following summer and the other two in early fall once I've purchased a new supply. We were once caught in an ice storm when we had no hydro for five days and ended up melting snow to use and let me tell you, you need a lot of snow to get a small amount of water. Not something I want to repeat. 
  • People with health problems who rely on electric-powered medical appliances. In that case, loss of power may turn into a medical crisis - transport to hospital or nursing home may be the answer, but this should probably be arranged ahead of time.
  • ATM machines won't work and many stores will be closed when there's no power. Be prepared with some cash on hand and enough food and water for a minimum of three days, preferably longer.
Keeping the gas tank topped up is always a good safety idea, just in case.
Emergency Escape Plan. This is part of the home fire escape plan but it also applies to other emergency situations. There should be two escape routes from every room, including second story rooms. If that isn't the case, what can be done to change it?

The link below takes you to the Central York Fire Services site that outlines an excellent escape plan that can be used for all emergencies, not just fires.
Emergency Escape Plan
In the event of fire or evacuation, you'll be thankful you had the foresight to prepare a Grab and Go Bag which includes:  
  • Cash in small bills, small change and possibly some travellers cheques.
  • Contact Information - Family members, school/work contacts, doctor, pharmacy, etc. 
  • Copies of: Birth Certificates, Marriage Certificate, Passport, Driver's License, Health Card/Records, Social Insurance Cards and other personal identifcation documents, Credit/Debit Cards, Insurance Information, House Deed, Mortgage Papers, Will, Power of Attorney, Recent Income Tax Return, Computer User Names and Passwords, etc.   Cut down on the paper and scan these documents, then send them to yourself in an email so that you can access them later from any internet-connected computer or mobile device, or you can save copies on one or more CD's or USB drives.
  • Extra car and house keys. Safety Deposit Box keys.
  • A change of clothes for every family member.
  • One week's worth of prescription medicine.
  • If there's room, you may want to add small items that have special meaning, such as photos, baby books, etc. Often the loss of those things causes the greatest emotional upset.
Place everything in a small suitcase or duffel bag and store it where its easy to grab if needed. 
Its a good idea to keep original documents that aren't needed on a regular basis in a safe place outside the home, such as in a safety deposit box. 
In-Home Sheltering. There may be times when its safer to stay indoors than venture out, such as during severe storms or if toxic chemicals were released in the air. Secure the home to keep all outside air from coming in. Close and lock all windows and doors. For severe storms - settle in a basement or ground floor area, preferaby a spot without windows. For toxic air - shut off all heating/cooling systems and settle in an area above floor level, again without windows.

Emergency Kit at home:
  • Food and water as above
  • Manual can-opener
  • Matches and Candles, possibly some oil lamps
  • Flashlights and  battery operated Radio
  • Good supply of spare batteries to keep flashlights and radio going
  • Well-equipped first-aid kit and the know how to use it. A first-aid course can be a lifesaver.
  • One week's worth of prescription medicine.
  • Infant formula/powdered milk/diapers. 
  • Baby wipes, toilet paper, paper towel.  ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
There are so many safety products on the market and at such reasonable prices that everyone should have them in their home. They include:
  • Working smoke alarms, at least one on every floor, batteries changed twice a year.
  • Fire extinguisher, one on every floor and everyone old enough should know how to use it before its ever needed.
  • Carbon-Monoxide detector, as per instructions.
  • Emergency lights on every floor - The kind I like are the ones that stay plugged in and normally function as a night light, but when removed can be used as a fully-charged flashlight.
  • Battery operated radio to stay informed if the power is out.
If you've ever thought about buying a generator, then this is the time to do it, so that you can become familiar with how its used before its ever needed.

Being prepared removes  a lot of the fear and stress associated with emergencies and provides much needed direction in case of serious disasters. 

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I want this blog to be interesting, informative and current. Your comments let me know if I'm on track, so comments are greatly appreciated.
Thanks - Lenie