How Prepared Is Your Household for an Emergency?

By Lesley Green
A person with a clipboard checking off all the items they've assembled for their home emergency kit.

Emergency Preparedness Week is May 3 to May 9, 2020

As emergencies go, one could certainly argue we’re in the middle of one right now with the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown. Few would likely disagree. And while you may have most of what you need to ride out the pandemic at home (Netflix, toilet paper, and a pre-set grocery delivery each week), do you have what you need in your home emergency kit if a severe storm hit causing a power outage for days? Do you even have a home emergency kit?

Chances are you don’t. According to Canada’s Department of Public Safety, 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.

It is likely due to this disconnect that 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 could see flooding, hurricanes, tornadoes, hailstorms and wildfires. Since many of us have some time on our hands, use it to create a plan for your family and pull together a home emergency kit.

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Create an Emergency Plan for Your Family

Prepare an escape plan so that all members of the family know how to evacuate the house quickly and safely, and create an emergency plan that details how everyone can contact each other if separated and where to meet.

  • Draw a map of each level of your home that shows all doors and windows for each room. Do a walkabout with the family and visit each room and point to the two ways out. Practice the plan with everyone in your household
  • Identify a safe place in your neighbourhood where everyone should meet if you cannot go home or you need to evacuate
  • Select a safe place outside of your immediate neighbourhood should the emergency be affecting your neighbourhood as a whole.
  • Decide on how to get to both safe places (both the local and further away site) and the route
  • Plan on how you will communicate with each other should an emergency happen while you’re not together. While a call may be preferred, it may not always be feasible. Make sure everyone knows how to text, at minimum, as these messages sometimes can get through when a phone call does not
  • Designate an out-of-town person who can be a central point of contact for you and your loved ones. Make sure everyone knows who this person is and how to reach them in a few different ways (call, email, text or social media)

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.

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.

  • Bottled Water. Each person in your household should have 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. Your emergency kit must have food that won’t spoil. Canned food, energy bars, and dried foods will do the trick. Remember to replace the food once a year. A manual can opener should be included to open canned food items, as well as a few utensils.
  • Extra set of car and house keys. Keep an extra pair of keys in your kit which will save you from having to try and find yours if there’s a power outage.
  • Small change. Keep some money in your kit (change and small bills are best).
  • Flashlight and extra batteries. Flashlights are crucial in the evenings if there’s a power outage. Make sure you have extra batteries on hand too.
  • Battery-powered or crank radio. Radios 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.
  • 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 and do not burn candles unattended.
  • 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 should be included in the emergency kit. In case you run out, you’re prepared.
  • Copies of important documents/contacts. Keep a hard copy of important contact information just in case your technology isn’t working for you. List the name, phone number and address for your designated out-of-town contacts, immediate family members, trusted neighbours, as well as for your family doctor. Don’t forget to include copies of your auto insurance and home insurance policies (and contact information for your insurer) should you need to open a claim.

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.