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Disaster preparedness weeks raise awareness with practical tips and advice
Shaila Abdullah
19 July 2010
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    Approximately 114,000 residential and commercial structures were damaged during the Northridge Earthquake, that struck California in 1994. FEMA / Wikimedia Commons

    On 23 June 2010 at 1:41pm, an earthquake of magnitude 5.0 hit the Ontario-Quebec border. Tremors were also reported in some US states, including Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Vermont, New Jersey and New York. The earthquake occurred near the southern edge of the western Quebec seismic zone.

    Much of the tremor's effect appeared to be concentrated in Gracefield, Quebec. Significant damage was caused to buildings, cars were shaken and displaced from their parking spots and residents ran to the streets. Buildings in Toronto and Ottawa were evacuated minutes after the earthquake. Fortunately, no injuries were reported. It did, however, serve as a reminder of the risk and seriousness of such natural disasters.

    Preparedness is key. In the case of a large scale emergency, there is a high possibility that help might be delayed. Families must take charge and equip themselves to deal with such a crisis and stay warm and fed, for at least the initial 72 hours.

    Don Shropshire, National Director of Disaster Services with the Canadian Red Cross, urges families to plan ahead and take responsibility for their own emergency preparedness so that they are ready if disaster strikes. “Don't wait until an emergency happens–knowing what to do before a disaster strikes will help families control the situation better and be in a position to recover more quickly,” says Shropshire.

    A category F5 tornado (upgraded from initial estimate of F4) viewed from the southeast as it approached Elie, Manitoba on 22 June 2007. Wikimedia Commons / Justin Hobson

    To better equip the community to deal with emergencies, Focus Humanitarian Assistance (FOCUS) – an international disaster planning, risk management and crisis response agency – launched Disaster Preparedness Week in May across the United States and in June in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea, in partnership with the Ismaili Councils in those regions, and their Regional Disaster Management Teams (RDMTs). Disaster Preparedness Week will be held in Canada later in the year.

    Disaster Preparedness Week challenges everyone to ask the obvious question: “Are we prepared?” Individuals and families of all types and sizes – whether single, married, with or without children, young or elderly, healthy or with special needs – must know where to go, what to do, and how to survive and help others in the event of a disaster. FOCUS and the Councils are there to help, but families must stock the tools necessary for survival following a large scale disaster, such as extra blankets, canned food, basic amenities, prescription medications, and medical supplies.

    “Regional Disaster Management Teams seek to strengthen the community to face adversities and cope in the aftermath, enabling a quick recovery,” said Rozmin Velani, an RDMT member for the Southwestern United States.

    During the week, information resources are distributed to assist individuals and families to be better prepared for a disaster or emergency. Community members are encouraged to join phone-trees for easy contact during a disaster. Sample emergency kits are put on display, along with information on where to get them and how to use them. RDMT members are available to answer questions, explain how to develop a family emergency plan and how to assemble an emergency supply kit.

    The following are some key disaster preparedness tips that can help you and your family:

    Know the risks

    An aerial photograph taken on 13 September 2008 shows flooding in Galveston, Texas, in the wake of Hurricane Ike. US Air Force / Wikimedia Commons

    Be informed about the hazards and risks in the city in which you live and those of the neighbouring areas. Earthquakes are common in areas bordering the Pacific. Flooding can occur anywhere due to rain, snow, or a storm. Blizzards can strike the Northeastern and Midwestern United States and most of Canada. Hurricanes are frequent in Florida, Texas and central and eastern Canada. Avalanches occur in mountainous areas. Wildfires are common in the summer, particularly in Australia, the western provinces of Canada and the western United States, and ice storms typically form in the winter.

    It is important to make your home disaster-resistant. Many injuries during earthquakes are caused by poorly secured furnishings, such as bookcases and big screen TVs that get displaced. Secure heavy furniture and fixtures, store flammable liquids in the garage and shut gas lines off in an emergency.

    Make a plan

    A family emergency plan will help you and your family to be prepared in case of an emergency. All family members, from young children to the elderly, must understand the plan and be ready to follow through in the event of an emergency. Even if you live alone, you should still have a plan.

    • Your family may not be together when disaster strikes, so it is important to know how you will contact one another, how you will get back together and what actions to take in case of an emergency. Designate places where your family will meet, both within and outside of your immediate neighbourhood.
    • Think about how to help the sick, those with special needs, the vulnerable or elderly in an emergency; what to do with pets, how to contact each other if phones lines are down.
    • Find out about the disaster response plans made by your local community, neighbourhood, workplace, school and city emergency services. Make sure that you are part of phone-trees that link you with your community and your neighbourhood.
    • It may be easier to dial a long-distance number rather than to call across town, so an out-of-town contact may be a better point of reference to communicate among separated family members.
    • You may also want to familiarise yourself with emergency plans at work, day-care and school. If no plans exist, consider volunteering to help create one.

    Get a kit

    A Red Cross “ready to go” emergency preparedness kit and its contents. FEMA / Wikimedia Commons

    In case of a major disaster, you will need some basic supplies set aside. Your emergency supply kit should include items such as canned or dry non-perishable food, a can opener, bottled water, a battery-powered or hand-crank radio, extra flashlights and batteries. You may want to prepare a portable kit and keep it in your car. This kit should include:

    • Copies of prescription medications and medical supplies;
    • Bedding and clothing, including sleeping bags and pillows;
    • Bottled water, a battery-operated radio and extra batteries, a first aid kit, a flashlight;
    • Copies of important documents: driver's license, Social Security card, proof of residence, insurance policies, wills, deeds, birth and marriage certificates, tax records, etc.

    Make sure you have a “to-go bag” ready in case you need to evacuate, which should include:

    • Water and non-perishable food;
    • Battery operated radio and batteries so you can access public advisories;
    • First aid kit;
    • Flashlight;
    • Maps;
    • Important documents such as proof residence, pictures of your family including pets, insurance policies, and tax records;
    • Comfortable clothing and blankets;
    • Unique family needs such as prescription medications, pet supplies, infant supplies or any other unique need your family may have.

    Additional resources

    Putting together an emergency kit

    Planning for an emergency

    Understanding the risks of your region

    Home hazard hunt poster

    This FEMA poster provides visuals and descriptions so that homeowners can identify and fix at-risk areas of their homes to reduce future earthquake damage and disruption.

    Educator and parent resources

    The Canadian Red Cross offers three free educational programmes geared to children to educate them on risks, and how to prepare themselves and their families to respond to a changing global environment.