Emergency Preparedness 101

Fly you fools
~ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Well, today I finished my 8th course out of the 17 that complete the Certificate in Disaster Management at JIBC…so far, I have accumulated experience and started a blog/website nobody reads 🙂 (but I am veeery persistent)

This weekend I am full-immerse in more training, this time about Disaster Relief and Recovery…

No doubt I have learned a lot (and still have more to learn), but my approach has not changed: Emergency Preparedness, including HRVA (Hazards, Risks and Vulnerabilities Assessments) are all closely related to building community and personal resilience. DM and EP approaches have been (and still are, even when this is changing) top-down and institution-based: either governments or different institutions are still the main source for assessment, decision-making, planning and implementation. While this may have some advantages (for resource allocation, budgeting, training and to have some control over otherwise potentially chaotic situations), it also has many flaws: institutionalized DM doesn’t have enough trained and capable people to manage big disasters, most cities and rural areas, including organizations, businesses and industries lack proper Disaster Management plans and the systems in place are well intentioned but a bit messy.

Which means that in an age where Climate Change is already increasing the amount, size and impact of natural disasters, and when we are, more than ever, exposed to human-induced disasters as well as diseases, epidemics and infestations, we are terribly ill prepared…

Do you have doubts?

Ask at your City Hall, your neighbour association, your chamber of commerce, your employer and…yourself, the following questions:

  • Do you have a clear list of the hazards, risks and vulnerabilities of this city, town, neighbourhood, building, company or household where you and your loved ones spend most of your time?
  • Do you (or any of the people/institutions above) have an emergency preparedness plan that includes mitigation, response, recovery, education and training and exercise of the plan?
  • Do you (or any of the people/institutions above) have enough supplies to survive a disaster without external help? What if the external help is delayed or insufficient?
  • Do you have a plan B for the event when you may be isolated for hours or even days without power, water, heating or food?

If you think I am exaggerating, think about this: a disaster is an event that surpasses the capacity of 911 or EMS and first responders’ services (firefighters, ambulance/paramedics and police) to respond…which means they are not enough to help everyone. A disaster usually requires external help (from other cities and/or provinces) and, ultimately, it is your responsibility to be prepared, not the government’s or any other humanitarian or relief institution…

Do you think this is not with you? That nothing will happen in your house, workplace or city?

That same thought was present in many Alberta families last summer when the floods ruined thousands of homes (and the recovery is still happening, a year later!)…is the same thought people in Saskatchewan had just before the current floods, the same run trough many BC’s towns which are currently either burning or threatened by the out of record wildfires…

What you can do:

  1. Find out what plans and supplies are already in place in your house, workplace and neighbourhood
  2. If none (or if the plans and supplies in place are old or insufficient), put together a committee:
  • At home: this is all of you, include partner, children, grandparents, anybody who lives in your house
  • At work: talk to HR or your immediate boss and share your concerns. Tell them how a well developed emergency preparedness plan results in less losses, fastest recovery, less liability and in general, business continuity. Employees will also feel better if they know the risks, work to fix vulnerabilities and know they are prepared for any event (after all, most disasters and emergencies happen when people are at work)
  • Your neighbourhood: you can either knock door to door (I know, I hate that too), pin an invitation to a meeting at the neighbourhood board, invite your closest’ neighbours for a BBQ or potluck or decided to announce a workshop at the local library…the opportunities are endless and depend on your neighbourhood style, your personality, etc. Better if you start by inspiring a couple of neighbours you trust so it is not just you…
  1. Even if there us a plan in place, you can still try the meetings with the people (above) to review it and re-assess: emergency preparedness plans are not static as things change around all the time…
  2. Make a list of the hazards, risks and vulnerabilities that affect your house, workplace and neighbourhood (those who are studying may do this with their college instead of workplace). Some examples of hazards are: floods, mudslides, earthquakes, storms, toxic spill from a nearby industry or rail/dock/airport/highway, food or water scarcity due to disruption to the food or water system, power outages, explosions, riots, etc. Risks are the probability of these things to happen/affect your neighbourhood, workplace or home and vulnerabilities are what are the weak areas/gaps or the people who may be in disadvantage facing this: for example, a neighbourhood that lost all its trees but is built in a muddy and hilly area may be more vulnerable to mudslides, floods or soil erosion…a workplace with just one way out and windows that don’t open, may be more vulnerable to a fire as workers may be trapped…also, the aging, the disable, the sick, etc are more vulnerable to any disaster than somebody who is fit, fully able and healthy.
  3. Plan for mitigation: what changes do you need to do around your house, your workplace or your neighbourhood to make them safer and less vulnerable to the hazards listed in the step above? For example: your workplace may implement a peer system where every employee is responsible for another employee in case of an emergency, or a communication tree where staff call others when an incident has happened and warn them ahead, you can change the furniture to avoid it from falling in case of earthquake and implement a twice a year drill, make sure every single person knows first aid, and have a box of water, FA and food supplies to survive at least 72 hours in case you are trapped in your workplace when a disaster happens…you can organize the list of skills, machinery and tools your neighbours have and decide on roles (who will check on the elder, those who live alone and the pets, etc.) and you can make sure your house is earthquake proof by eliminating potential flying/falling objects, securing furniture to the wall, and practicing drills with your family (do the same with the main hazards affecting your area, such as fires, floods, etc)
  4. Plan for survival: at home, at the workplace/school and in your neighbourhood you should have two weeks (forget the 72 hours!) of supplies to cover the basics: food, water, first aid, heating, light, toilet/sanitation and communication (how you will let others know where you are and whether you require help). Read my posts at the Emergency Preparedness blog/website for more details on what do you need to include and how to make this happen without breaking your piggy bank.
  5. Plan for evacuation: sometimes you will not be able to stay where you are (home, workplace/school or neighbourhood) because it is not safe. It may be that the authorities recommend (or command) to evacuate or it may be a result of your own decision because the place becomes unsafe…in this case, plan for alternatives of where would you go and how you will get there, how would you communicate with your loved ones, what would you do with your pets or livestock, etc. I’ll post more on this in my EP blog/website (see link at the beginning of this post). Your plan should include a go-bag: usually a backpack with supplies for a minimum of 72 hours for each person or pet in the house/workplace, etc
  6. Make copies of your most important documents and pictures and put them in a water-proof bag and inside the go-bag. You may lose your house and all the stuff in it, but you don’t want to lose your more valued pictures, your Ids, passports, insurance papers, birth certificates and so on…make sure you add some cash there (coins and small change included) in case you need to flee your house/workplace/school and go to a emergency centre, a friend’s house or pay for a hotel, transportation, etc. You can have a copy of this at a family member or friend’s house (somebody who lives far enough from your place that they may not be affected by the disaster). This will also help them to find you, or members of your family, in case something else happens.

Other general preparedness tips include:

  • Have a bike for each member of your family and seats for the babies and pets
  • Stay fit: walk, bike or exercise everyday and eat healthy food
  • Always have full gas tank in your vehicles
  • Camp out with your family and friends: it teaches survival skills and resilience as well as how to cook, wash, etc in different ways (including outdoor or composting toilets)
  • Become familiar with what is in your neighbourhood and workplace surroundings: what types of businesses and what is their potential hazard (or help) in case of a disaster…what type of institutions, people, geography, etc, is around you? What is the story of that place? Does it have a history of storms, floods, fires, etc?
  • Have at least one backup for each main need and process: a backup for heating, light, water, cooking, washing, toilet-going, etc.
  • Have an alternative source for food: grow your own vegetables and fruits and preserve them through canning, dehydrating, etc
  • Learn to eat wild stuff: to recognize and eat wild flowers, leaves, fruits and stems, mushrooms and so on…this may make for fun hikes with your family or friends
  • Learn First Aid and practice it (a 7 or 14 hour course every three years doesn’t work at all if you don’t make a purpose for reading the book and practicing what you have learned)
  • Volunteer at a local group or institution that provides training and experience, such as firefighters, emergency social services, Red Cross, any social services program, rescue team, etc.
  • Be intentional: build resilience in you and your loved ones. (Read my post on how to build resilience…coming soon!)
  • Enjoy every moment of this life, including those moments when you may feel down and lost, lonely or depressed, or moments when things don’t go as you expected (in your life or in the world)…even when you experience betrayal, loses, pain. You are still alive, anything can happen. Give thanks for that and make the best of what’s ahead…

Don’t adventures ever have an end? I suppose not. Someone else always has to carry on on the story.”
~ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.”
~ Helen Keller, The Open Door


2 Comments on “Emergency Preparedness 101

  1. I realize how unprepared I would be! Thanks for posting.


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