Emergency situations can happen anytime and anywhere, so it’s always better to be ready for the unexpected. Emergency planning and preparedness is something that the whole family can get involved in, and it goes a long way in ensuring your safety in the face of disaster.
Every household should have a plan in-place and the tools to deal effectively with emergency situations. Whether you live in a sub-division, a high-rise condo or in a rural setting, would you really know what to do if things went seriously wrong? People often think that these types of emergencies will never happen to them. Hopefully that will be the case, but it’s always best to be prepared.
Understanding The Risks
Before you can effectively plan for emergency response, you first need to understand the nature of what could potentially happen in and around your home. Fire, major power outages and natural gas or carbon monoxide leaks would be common potential risks, but there can also be natural disasters that may pose a threat in the area that you live in. These could include tornados, floods, storm surges, mudslides, severe winter storms, earthquakes or even man-made disasters like chemical spills. Once you determine what could happen and the likelihood of it actually happening, then you can plan appropriately.
Making A Plan
Your household emergency response plan should be simple and include the fundamental elements that you need to escape dangerous situations and to stay safe afterwards. If you make things too complicated, family members are less likely to remember the details or get confused when it really counts.
- Whatever your own household plan may include, be sure to write it down and distribute a copy to family members to further enforce each of the steps. If plans are only done verbally, it can be easy to gloss-over or forget important details.
- Once you have an emergency plan established, ensure that you practice the steps or do ‘dry runs’ occasionally to keep all of the specifics top-of-mind. It’s also a good idea to quiz younger children on a regular basis on what to do or who to call in an emergency.
- The number one item in your preparedness plan should be the safe evacuation of your home in the event of an emergency. It should include recognizing the signs of danger, alarms and what they mean, and clear escape routes (with primary and alternate options). For this last point, create a floor plan of your home and indicate the quickest way to get outside from each room.
- Identify a family meeting place outside of your home in the event that an emergency evacuation is necessary. This helps to add structure to the plan, keeps family members safer and allows for an easy head count to ensure that no one is missing.
- It’s easy for family members to become separated in emergency or disaster situations, so it’s always good to have a communications element to your plan. Be sure that all family members have each other’s contact information readily available, and that younger children have key phone numbers memorized. As a back-up, it’s also a good idea to have an out-of-area contact established as a go-to person to help coordinate communications or plans in the case of larger scale disasters.
- Make fire and carbon monoxide safety a part of your planning, and ensure that you have all the proper equipment in-place to deal with these situations. (click here to view the complete SafetyLink article on fire safety)
- Be sure to check with local police, fire, EMS and government agencies regarding emergency and disaster planning and the resources that are available to you
- For added safety, teach capable members of your family where and how to shut off the water, electricity and gas supplies in your home. Make easy-to-read signs near the breaker panel and the main gas and water valves. Only attempt to turn off these items if there is no imminent danger to yourself or your family. Escape will always be your first priority and first responders can handle these elements once they arrive if necessary.
- Include any specific requirements in your evacuation and safety planning to accommodate pets, small children, disabled persons or those with other special needs
- Public Safety Canada offers brochures on specific risks that can be used as a resource when planning. You can conveniently download copies from GetPrepared.ca.
If the unthinkable does happen, your family may be on its own for up to 72 hours before help is available. Experts agree that having a portable emergency kit is essential to making the period immediately after a major incident safer and more comfortable for everyone. The exact contents of your kit will depend on your location (urban vs. rural), the make-up of your family members (eg. small children, seniors etc.) and the type of disaster that is more likely to happen in your area (house fire vs. natural disaster). Pre-packaged kits are available for sale, but you can easily put one together yourself. Here are some potential items that could be included in your household kit:
- Flashlight & batteries
- Fresh water
- Non-perishable food items
- Battery operated or wind-up radio
- First aid kit
- Prescription medications
- Toiletry items
- Extra eyeglasses
- Pocket knife
- Manual can opener
- Extra set of house & car keys
- Waterproof matches
- Water purification tablets or liquid
- A small amount of money in small bills
- Copies of important documents
- Signal whistle & flares
- Sleeping bags & blankets
- Small fuel operated cooking stove
- Extra clothing
- Baby supplies
Make sure your kit is easy to carry and that everyone in the household knows where it is. Keep it in an area that is easily accessible and in a container such as a plastic tote, duffle bag, back pack or suitcase with wheels.
Other Things To Consider
- Be sure to make copies of all your important documents such as birth and marriage certificates, passports, wills, licenses, insurance and land deeds and keep them in a secure location away from your home. Having digital copies on your smart phone is also a good idea for easy access.
- Make sure that several people within your home have proper first aid and CPR training through a reputable organization such as the Red Cross or St. John’s Ambulance
- Designate specific friends or family members who can pick up and provide short-term care and supervision for your children if necessary
- Determine what you might do with your pets beforehand. If an evacuation is necessary, know which friends, family or boarding facilities are available if you do need pet care.
- It’s always good practice to know if your neighbours have any special needs individuals within their homes, and to communicate to them if you do to. This could include seniors or anyone with a disability that may affect their mobility or their ability to deal with an emergency situation.
- Once you have established your escape routes within your emergency planning process, be sure to keep all of these areas fully accessible and free of clutter. Make sure that all doors and windows can be opened easily from the inside and that any security features can be quickly disabled.
- Aside from getting out of your home safely, you should also identify the fastest way to exit from your neighbourhood should it become necessary. Be sure to include optional routes.
- Time your semi-annual routine of changing the batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, to include a re-stocking of your emergency kit and a family review of emergency procedures. Batching everything together makes it easier to remember.
- If you live in an apartment, plan to use the stairs instead of the elevators if you have to evacuate. Also be sure to inform your property manager ahead of time if you have any special needs or issues with mobility.
- If you have houseguests, it’s always a good practice to let them in on your emergency plans as well
Emergency planning doesn’t have to be complicated, and by taking a few simple steps, you can become better prepared to face a range of emergency situations and minimize the impact on yourself and your family.