Are you prepared to take care of your family’s needs for the first 72 hours of an emergency?
Emergencies can and do happen! We just have to think of the Peterborough floods, the train derailment in Oshawa, or the propane tank explosion in Toronto to realize that sometimes emergencies hit close to home.
Many of us believe that when emergencies occur, the government will step right in and take care of everything. And it’s true that all levels of government have action plans for various types of community emergencies.
But the government also expects you to be able to take care of your family for the first three days (72 hours) of an emergency.
Depending upon the type of emergency, you could be without power, with no access to food or water and limited access to emergency services due to high volume. You might have to go to a local shelter. Is your family prepared for such an event?
If you had only 10 minutes or less to leave your house, do you have:
☑ your house and car insurance information?
☑ your medication and prescriptions?
☑ your family contact numbers?
☑ a bag packed with essential clothing and toiletries?
☑ your child’s favourite comfort toy?
☑ food that your family will eat for the first 72 hours?
If the answer is no, read on!
Start off with emergency plan
While we can’t always predict when or what kind of emergency will happen – whether it’s a chemical spill, a tornado, or a flu pandemic (see sidebar) that affects the operation of your community – there are steps you can take to make it a less stressful event for your family. These include having a family emergency plan in place and developing an emergency kit that will allow your family to survive for 72 hours on your own.
The Canadian government website GetPrepared.ca suggests families start off by making an emergency plan. The site includes an interactive tool to help you develop the plan. Your emergency plan will cover:
1. Safe exits from home or neighbourhood – plan alternate routes in case some major thoroughfares are blocked off.
2. Meeting places to reunite with family – have two, one in your community and one farther away in case the one close by is not accessible.
3. Designated person to pick up children from school or daycare should you be unavailable (and a permission document at that location for them to refer to).
4. Contact persons, both close by and out of town – there should be a copy for each person in the family in case family members become separated.
5. Health information – copies of prescriptions for eyeglasses and medication, health cards and name of family doctor.
6. Place for your pets to stay – not all emergency shelters are pet friendly.
7. Possible risks in your region.
8. Location of your fire extinguisher, water valve, electrical box, gas valve and floor drain.
Go over the plan with family members and keep a copy with your 72-hour Emergency Preparedness Kit.
Putting together an emergency kit
The items listed earlier in this article are just some of the things you need to have on hand in case of an emergency. In general, your kit should contain everything you would need to sustain your family in your home or at a shelter for 72 hours:
☑ water – two litres per person per day
☑ food – non-perishable items that your family likes. Include foods that do not have to be cooked before being eaten.
☑ manual can opener and utensils
☑ flashlight – extra batteries or manual crank kind
☑ radio – extra batteries or crank radio
☑ basic first aid kit and hand sanitizer
☑ special needs items – diapers and formula for the baby, prescription medications, extra pair of eyeglasses, etc.
☑ photocopies of personal identification – birth certificates, health cards, passports, etc.
☑ extra set of keys for the house and car
☑ extra cell phone battery
☑ change of clothing and extra footwear
☑ garbage bags
☑ toilet paper
☑ portable stove and fuel (abide by manufacturer’s guidelines for storage)
☑ simple games and books for the children.
Of course, the contents of your kit will also be tailored to your family’s needs. Does your family include elderly parents? If so, you’ll want to include items such as medication lists or hearing aid batteries in your kit.
If you have a pet, your kit should contain:
☑ name of vet
☑ rabies tag, dog tags
☑ portable litter box for cat
☑ travel cage
☑ proof of immunization
☑ leash, harness, and muzzle if needed
☑ food, water, bowl, and chew toys
☑ information about alternate arrangements if shelter does not accept pets
It is best to have your kit all packed away, right by your exit door, at the ready if needed. Collect the items as a family activity – checking off each one as it is put into the bag. Turn it into a treasure hunt or a timed game with specific items each person is responsible for finding.
Choose a suitcase on wheels for easier transport or for a family of just two, a camping backpack should be sufficient. Update the information on a regular basis, i.e., new medication lists or new cell phone numbers. Rotate the food and water on a yearly basis – have a “disaster picnic” to consume the food and to set the stage with the children in case you ever need to do it in a real situation.
Going to a shelter
All municipalities have agreements with local agencies, such as the Red Cross, to assist in setting up shelters, registering evacuees, arranging food and sleeping cots and managing temporary shelters. The location of the shelter for your area may depend on what is available, the number of people displaced and the immediate safety of the community. This information will be broadcast over the radio and television should an emergency occur. There may be no power in your home, which is why it’s important to have a battery-operated or crank radio in your kit to alert you to developments.
Kids will naturally be worried during emergencies, especially if the family has to go to a shelter. They will need reassurance that all is well and that they are safe. Try to maintain some of the daily rituals that your children are used to – reading a book before bedtime, washing up before meals, sharing what they did during the day.
Or try to turn the experience into an adventure of sorts. Kids can help choose what to have for meals, crank up the radio and flashlight, and play with the special toys they packed in the kit. Encouraging them to keep a journal of their “adventure” will help them put the experience into perspective and get their feelings down on paper. If you have a family pet with you, they can take on some of the responsibility for caring for the pet.
We don’t sit around and wait for disasters to happen – rather they kind of sneak up on us when least expected. But we can be prepared for them and know that our families are capable of surviving the first 72 hours comfortably.
Did you know that …
- bank, debit, credit card and ATM machines may not operate during a mass power outage, so it is a good idea to have cash in your emergency kit particularly in smaller bills?
- if your house phone has features that require it to be plugged in it will not function in a power outage? Have a regular phone on hand in case this happens.
- you won’t be able to recharge your cell phone if there is no power? Save your battery and only have your phone on for limited times during the day or alternatively have a back up cell phone battery in your kit.