This post was inspired by my ongoing contemplation of the Canadian Doomer’s Blog.
Home safety is second nature to me because my dad worked as a safety officer. At my house, I have smoke detectors, a carbon monoxide detector, and a fire extinguisher. I’ve always had a well-stocked first aid kit. The electrical outlets are capped and I don’t even have kids in the house! I would not dream of leaving a drawer open or storing anything on the stairs. I don’t even have to think about these things, I just do “the right thing” routinely.
I have all the emergency stuff I’m supposed to have in my car. That comes from having lived in Saskatchewan with its -40C winters. I feel more threatened by the possibility of a car breakdown or accident in a remote place, than I do a home emergency.
On the other hand, when it comes to public emergencies, my preparations are half-baked. I am aware of what’s on emergency checklists and I weakly attempt to collect a few things when I think of it.
What are my real risks?
- Personal injury or illness
- Car breakdown or accident
- Theft of personal property
- House fire caused by electrical fault or roofing repair
- Power outages due to snow, rain or wind storms (with corresponding lack of heat and water)
- Weather-related damage to communications lines (phone, Internet)
- Roads blocked due to storms (fallen trees, severe snowfalls)
- No ability to purchase goods because of the above (e.g. stores closed because of storms)
- Remote risk – warfare because Halifax is a port city and a centre of military operations
I don’t expect I will ever have to barricade myself in my house and live off my own resources, nor do I think I will ever be trapped in my home. However, a one-week power outage with no ability to buy anything is a real possibility.
Otherwise, the risks of earthquakes, landslides, tornadoes and heat waves are very low in my area. Floods and forest fires could impact neighbourhoods within a few kilometres.
The biggest emergency I’ve been part of is when Hurricane Juan struck my town in September, 2003. Just 5 months after that, a nor’easter dumped 95 cm of snow and brought the city to a standstill. After the hurricane, I got off very easy because my power was out less than 24 hours. My parents live outside the city and theirs was out for 5 days.
Everyone in my area realized what they should have done to be prepared. If you look at my parents’ approach to weather events, compared to mine, you’ll learn from their wise ways!
First of all, because they live in a wooded area, they are always aware of the potential for tree damage. They keep a zone around their house clear of trees. They also have a wood stove as secondary heat, with access to free wood. They have a chain saw and an axe. They can remove fallen trees and collect firewood. So, they do not remain trapped on their property, and they have heat. Because they also live next to a freshwater lake, their house is essentially “below sea level” and vulnerable to flooding. A sump pump was not able to keep up with water seepage in the basement, so they now have two in good working order. On the plus side, the lake water is clean and can be used for drinking, cooking, bathing and toilets.
At the time of Juan, my parents were raising chickens, turkeys and trout. They keep two large, fully stocked freezers. They had a small gas generator which they used to power their freezers for the 5-day power outage, so they had no losses.
We all realized the importance of having a full tank of propane for our barbecues.
My parents can’t get cell phone service because their house is in a deep hollow. They do have an old-fashioned telephone that just plugs into a jack, with no electrical connection. It would work if power was out and phone lines were still intact.
All told, my parents fared well for the 5 days, with access to heat, water, cooking on the barbecue, and lack of food spoilage. Their greatest difficulty was lack of phone service. They relied on neighbours with cell phones to get messages out. The only lingering irritation is that the TV cable lines were down and they weren’t repaired for weeks. If they’d had their phone service through the cable company, it would have been a serious complication.
Lest you think the picture is all rosy, my safety officer dad, with the chain mail chaps, still managed to gouge himself with the chain saw and it was remarkable that my mom discovered him injured and was able to get help via the neighbours. My dad has not even given up using the chain saw – he just got a suit with better protection for the next time!
They later purchased a much larger gas generator which can power all of their lights and major appliances.
Meanwhile, I had heard a storm was coming, but did not take it seriously because in the past, every one of them had turned into a post-tropical storm. However, one very concerned woman warned me that I should take in everything from the yard and deck that might blow away. Because I am too cheap to want to replace my stuff, I did, thankfully. I forgot that the latch on the screen door was broken. During the storm, it banged repeatedly against the house and eventually came off its hinges. My landlord was not impressed that I hadn’t reported the faulty latch and now he had to replace the door.
I made the big hurricane preparation that seemed important to me at the time: I made a pot of coffee and put it in a thermos. Although the coffee was very welcome in the morning, I certainly did trivialize the storm. I was worried about the food in my freezer but since the power outage was only one day, it survived. I did end up cooking a meal on the barbecue.
I had numerous flashlights with working batteries. I tried to go out before the storm and get extra batteries but they were sold out everywhere, as was bottled water. I managed to get a couple of bottles after checking at 3 or 4 stores.
The greatest panic after both the hurricane and the nor’easter was that with extended power outages, bank machines were not accessible and gas stations remained closed. As soon as they were able to open, there were massive line-ups for gasoline and for barbecue propane. Stores sold out of generators, and the following winter, snow blowers.
The biggest revelations to people were:
- how community-minded everyone found each other, checking on their neighbours and sharing resources, and
- we all want Tim Horton’s to be declared an essential emergency service!
After all that, am I prepared for another emergency? I have improved. I bought a crank radio. I keep extra flashlight batteries and water. I have all of my critical documents in one place. My computer files are on an easy-to-grab back-up drive. I keep a full tank of propane. I also have a camp stove. I don’t let the car gas tank get too near empty before topping it up (I’m especially diligent in the winter, when I might have to run the engine for heat). I keep up to 4 weeks’ worth of groceries in the house including a decent stock of non-perishables that I actually know how to make meals with. I always keep home insurance up to date, which covers a few perils. And I am the only adult I know, outside of hospital personnel, with my DPT vaccination up to date!
I keep mulling over a secondary heat source. I have no desire to buy and split wood, so a pellet stove or direct-vent propane fireplace might be the best options. But, our worst power outages are always during hurricane season, and not in the winter when heat is needed. So I have not proceeded yet.
For me, a more serious emergency would be an evacuation. I would have to go where I was told. The idea of sharing quarters with hundreds of people alarms me. This morning I thought of the following emergency kit for a forced evacuation in a public building:
- Sleeping bags and air mattresses
- Eye shields
- Ear plugs
- Mini board games
- Card games
- Unread or favourite books (actual, print books)
- MP3 player (not iPod with rechargeable battery)
I might even have to ask Rom to pack a few decks of Magic the Gathering cards! I would hope that nice musicians would bring their guitars and violins so they could entertain us with sing-alongs and dancing.
Over all, I do think that people are woefully under-prepared for even brief emergencies, and they have not thought through any personal challenges such as their dependence on medications, public transit, or keeping track of their pets. I might not have the best emergency kits, but I have thought through various scenarios, and feel somewhat mentally prepared.
As Scar sings in The Lion King, “So prepare for the coup of the century, be prepared for the murkiest scam, meticulous planning, tenacity spanning…BE PREPARED!”