How prepared is your household for an emergency?

This article has been updated from a previous version.

Emergency Preparedness Week is May 5 to May 11, 2024

Each year the Canadian government and the provinces promote Emergency Preparedness Week the first full week of May. After all, we’re heading into the time of year when we see flooding, hurricanes, tornadoes, hailstorms and wildfires across the country.  

Roughly 85% of Canadians agree that having an emergency kit is important in ensuring the safety of their family. Yet only 40% have prepared or bought an emergency kit.  

Typically, an emergency kit should sustain you and your family for 72 hours. Do you have what you need in your kit in case a severe storm causes a power outage for days?

Emergency Preparedness Week should be your annual reminder to brush up on your emergency plan and update your emergency kit.

Here’s how to keep your family safe this season – and for the next year.  

Related: What a ‘state of emergency’ means for home insurance

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Create an emergency plan for your family

Being prepared for an emergency starts with having a plan. Having an escape plan ensures that all members of the family know how to evacuate the house quickly and safely, and instructs how everyone can contact each other if separated, and where to meet.

Here’s an outline for details your emergency plan should include:

Identify escape routes. Draw a map of each level of your home that shows all the doors and windows for each room. Perform a walkabout with the family and visit each room to discuss all the ways out of it. Try to think of two possibilities for each room. Practice the plan with everyone in your household.

Establish meeting places. Identify a safe place in your neighbourhood where everyone should meet if you cannot go home or need to evacuate. If possible, the meeting point should be on the same side of the street as your home. That way, you don't need to cross the street into traffic or in front of fire trucks or ambulances during an emergency.

You should also select a safe place outside of your immediate neighbourhood should the emergency affect your larger neighbourhood. Decide on how to get to both safe places (both the local and further away site) and the route.

Plan to protect your children. In case of an emergency during school hours, it might be necessary for someone else to pick up your kids. Double check that the school or daycare has the most up-to-date contact information for both you and other authorized adults/guardians on the pick-up list.

Plan to protect your pets. If you need to evacuate, prioritize taking your pets with you. They rely on you for safety. Some public shelters or hotels may not allow pets so alternatives such as relatives, friends or pet-friendly accommodation should be considered.  

Have a communication plan in place. Should an emergency happen while you’re not together, you should have a plan on how you will communicate with each other. Make sure everyone in your family has each other’s phone numbers written down in a safe place (in case you forget your phone, or your phone battery dies).  

Create a support network. Designate an out-of-town person who can be a central point of contact for you and your loved ones. Everyone should know who this person is and how to reach them in a few different ways (call, email, text or social media).

Address any special needs. Jot down any existing medical conditions of family members, allergies, past surgeries, family health conditions, and vaccinations. Fill out a ‘in case of emergency’ information sheet and put a copy on your fridge, purse, and give one to family members for safekeeping.

While these are some general things you can do to prepare for an emergency, the Government of Canada offers an online tool that can help you dig down into your family’s needs when it comes to creating an emergency plan.

Read more: Your guide to mass evacuation coverage for home insurance

Create an emergency kit for your family

An emergency kit should not only have all your essentials but should be able to sustain you and your family for 72 hours. Ideally, it can be packed into a few duffle bags so family members can easily carry them should you need to leave your home.

Here are some essentials you should include in your emergency kit:

  • Bottled water. Each person in your household should have access to two litres of water per day. It’s important to remain hydrated. Small bottles are best as they’re easier to store and carry.
  • Food for your family and your pets. Your emergency kit must have shelf-stable food that won’t spoil, like canned food, energy bars, and dried foods. Remember to replace the food once a year. A manual can-opener should be included, as well as a few utensils. Don’t forget to include extra food and treats for your pets.  
  • Extra set of car and house keys. Keep a spare set of keys in your kit so you’re not fumbling around in the dark for them if there’s a late-night power outage.
  • Flashlight and extra batteries. In the event that the lights cut out, you’ll want a few flashlights handy. Make sure you have extra batteries on hand too.  
  • Small change. Keep some money in your kit (change and small bills are best).
  • Copies of important documents/contacts. Keep a folder with hard copies of important documents. You’ll want a list of contacts, including names, phone numbers and addresses of your designated out-of-town contacts, immediate family members, trusted neighbours, as well as for your family doctor and insurance company. The folder should also have copies of your auto insurance and home insurance policies should you need to open a claim.
  • An extra phone charger or a (full) back-up battery pack. Phones die quickly, especially when you’re trying to stay updated in a crisis situation and keep in touch with your loved ones. Make sure to always have access to extra battery life.  
  • Battery-powered or crank radio. A radio can keep you updated and in the loop in terms of what’s going on in your area.
  • First aid kit. In case of any accidents or injuries that take place, make sure you’ve got a well-stocked first aid kit ready. The kit should have bandages of varying shapes and sizes, gauze pads, antiseptic wipes, face masks, and other items. The Canadian Red Cross has a list of suggestions on what to include in your first aid kit.
  • Basic hand tools. Tools such as a hammer, scissors, screwdrivers, pliers, and a pocketknife are useful to have on hand. You never know when you might need to use them.
  • Sleeping bag or warm blankets. Make sure there is a sleeping bag for each person in the household or have a stash of extra blankets on hand.
  • A change of clothes. If you need to vacate your home quickly, having a change of clothes already set aside will come in handy.
  • Candles and matches/lighter. Make sure candles are in sturdy holders, that your matches are dry and any lighter you use has ample fluid in it.  
  • Special need items. That includes prescription medications and infant formula, in case you don’t have access to a pharmacy or grocery store and run out.
  • Toiletries. Things such as toilet paper, hand sanitizer and other personal items like sanitary pads should be included in the emergency kit.  

Read more: When a tornado touches down, your home insurance will help you pick up the pieces

Once you’ve got your emergency kit packed, store it in an easily accessible place. Don’t hide it in the storage room way at the back behind your holiday decorations. Also, make sure everyone in the house knows where it can be found.

Hopefully, you’ll never need to act on your emergency plan or use your emergency kit, but if you do, you’ll be thankful you took the time now to get everything in order.

Read next: How to protect your basement from flooding in Canada