Canada Employment and Immigration Union -
November 2, 2003

Preparing for emergencies

Disasters — Human and Natural

On August 14, 2003 the power was abruptly cut to 50 million people in the North East of the United States and Canada. This sparked fierce debate about the drawbacks of deregulation and privatization, but it also highlighted the need for long-term conservation strategies and sound emergency preparedness plans.

The same summer saw severe forest fires in many regions of Canada, most notably in British Columbia. These fires also produced strong debate about how best to reduce the impact of natural disasters of this sort. These debates will take some time to settle, and in the meantime, you need to make preparations of your own in the event you face an emergency. Here are a few suggestions about you can do.

Have at least one phone that does not depend on an electrical source

When power outages occur, cordless phones will not work and cellular phone service may be sporadic. Keep an old-fashioned landline phone (one that jacks into the wall but does not plug into an electrical socket) in the house just in case. If you don’t own one, they are an inexpensive purchase.

Know where your children are

If there is a field trip scheduled, find out where the class will be going, and get the cell phone number at which they can be reached. Ask the school authorities about the procedures they follow in the event of emergencies and speak with your children about them.

Carry some cash

ATMs, debit and credit cards are all useless during a blackout and banks will not open their doors so long as their electronic security systems are down. Keep enough money for basic supplies tucked away in a safe hiding place at home, and enough cash in your wallet to meet your needs until you get home.

Keep sensible walking shoes at work

In Toronto and New York, the largest cities affected by the blackout, transit is largely electric. Streetcars and subways ground to a halt, and cabs were not an option given the number of people competing for them. Anyone who witnessed the pained expressions of women who unexpectedly had to walk home in high heels will recognize the need to keep a pair of walking shoes at work.

Keep some large containers for water storage

When the electrical system failed, the savviest citizens immediately ran water into covered containers (large Rubbermaid bins work well). Within hours, the cities announced that the water filtration system could be affected and urged citizens to keep enough water on hand to last for up to three days. A rough guide is one litre per person per day. Make sure the water is covered and the storage containers are cleaned beforehand.

Keep a transistor radio in the house

This is especially important if you live in a remote area. It may sound obvious, but in the event of electrical failure, the normal means of information dissemination will be useless. By far, one of the best ways to gather information and instructions during an emergency is by transistor radio. Having one will make you the belle of the block and may also provide an interesting diversion to pass the time.

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