Emergency Prepared Community

My partner and I recently put together an emergency kit for our home. Getting organized was fun and we both learned lots through the process. The most important lesson is this: by being prepared, we’ll be better positioned to help.

Shortly after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan earlier this year, I attended a Vancouver Coastal Health public information session about preparing for natural disasters.  The session was eye-opening and I had been meaning to get on it since then. One Sunday night last month, I was going through my neglected in-tray at home and found the emergency preparedness literature. I finally had a proper look through it and started pulling together what we needed to be self-sufficient for 72 hours.

Being prepared for a minimum of three full days without public assistance and without access to utilities, fresh water and communication channels is recommended by our municipal government and provincial health authorities.  It’s a good idea to prepare three-day emergency kits for your home and for your car.  A step further is to build a second kit for your home that includes supplies for an additional four days so you’re covered for a week.

We started with getting a three-day kit together for our home.  We already had most of the stuff we needed, scattered through camping storage bins, first aid kits, and in the garage. That first night, our three-day home kit was assembled into a backpack containing medical basics, flashlights and batteries, duct tape, matches, scissors, rope, plastic bags and a few other odds and ends. We had also created a to-do list of missing items, like work gloves, energy bars, and spare keys.

The best part was talking about our emergency plan.  We assumed that we would not be together, that we would not have cell phone coverage, and that we would be on foot.  Our meeting point is our home and if it’s unsafe to be there, it’s our local community centre.  We’ve stashed a Sharpie, paper and tape in a baggie on our porch so we can leave a note if we do make it home but decide to leave.  Our plan is specific: meet at the NE corner of Ontario and East 33rd Ave.

The second part of our plan is getting to our young daughter.  We assumed that she would be with my parents, who care for her while we’re both at work, and that they will be at their home in North Van.  We plan to ride our bikes over the Second Narrows to gather with the rest of my family.  We also agreed who we would call outside of the city to check-in.  My aunt in Edmonton will be my family’s communication hub so if we can’t get to one another, at least we can let someone know we’re ok.   Deciding upon our emergency plan started our whole family talking about emergency what-ifs.  We all feel better for it.

Before considering emergency preparedness, I guess I just assumed that we would be ok/taken care of when shit goes down.  We often hear of communities pulling together during crisis.  I now realize that being prepared positions us to help our neighbours because our chances of staying healthy are increased.  That sounds like a good plan to me.

Masthead photo courtesy of Earthworm

On shaky ground – being earthquake prepared in Vancouver

1946 earthquake - Vancouver Island

It’s strange to give someone, on the other side of the world, news about a calamitous event near them. I was skyping with myMum in Australia and mentioned that there had been an earthquake that morning in Christchurch. Not having she turned on the TV to get the news. How strange it was to watch Australian news updates through Skype! It was during this conversation that I mentioned, oh silly me, that Vancouver is due for ‘a big one’.

Over the last 130 years some 10 moderate earthquakes have occurred in Southwest British Columbia and Washington. Larger quakes – in the magnitude of 8 or 9 come around once every 500 years with the last one off the coast of west of Vancouver Island in the 1700’s.

But – did you know that there is an average of one earthquake each day in Southwest BC? While these daily quakes cannot be felt it’s certain that a larger one would wreak considerable havoc on what is now a highly populated area.

The devastation we’re witnessing from Japan is a stark reminder of our own vulnerability. While a nuclear meltdown might not be of concern but Burrard Inlet is home to a number of industrial sites including a chlorine plant and a Chevron refinery. Our high risk transportation zones, the Skytrain, bridges and tunnels, will also be critical in times of emergency.

I live in a building built long before seismic resistance was incorporated into building code. How will my building stand up in a quake? Alas it will crumble unless it was renovated in the last 10 years or was recently converted from an office to residential. But that’s unlikely given it’s in the middle of Kits! Schools and public buildings will fair better with billions of dollars being invested into earthquake proofing. Our kids will be safe and perhaps we’ll see an influx into the public service!

In the meantime, it’s Emergency Preparedness Week in May. Get some tips on putting together an earthquake kit (sardines and all) and brush up on your Earthquake Preparedness.