Emergencies can occur at any time. In an emergency, response agencies focus their efforts first where the need is greatest. That is why individual emergency preparedness is so important. While most people recognize the importance of being prepared surveys have shown that fewer than half take the steps needed to be prepared.
It only takes three simple steps to become better prepared to face an emergency: know the risks, make a plan, and create or get an emergency kit.
Step 1. Know the Risks
By learning about the different types of emergencies you can better prepare for them. Find out what to do to protect you and your family if faced with situations like:
- Severe weather
- Winter Storms
- Wildland or forest fires
Step 2. Make a Plan
In an emergency, your family may not be together, or you may be asked to evacuate your home. Thinking about what you would do in different situations and preparing a plan with every member of your family is the first step to being prepared. Your plan should include:
i) Family Communications Plan
During an emergency, it may be easier to reach someone using text messaging or social media or to make a long-distance call than to call someone locally (due to network damage or a jammed system). Discuss with your family which way(s) you will try to get in touch with each other. Identify one or two out-of-town contacts you and your loved ones can call or text message to connect and share information. Be sure they live far enough away so they will not likely be affected by the same emergency.
Make sure everyone in your family, as well as your two key contacts, knows how to use text messaging. During emergencies, these messages may often get through even when phone calls may not. Always keep your communications devices fully charged.
ii) Evacuation Plan
In case you are asked to evacuate your home, or even your area, select two safe locations you could go to. One should be nearby, such as a local library or community centre. The other one should be farther away, outside your neighbourhood, in case the emergency affects a large area.
You should also plan how you would travel to a safe location if evacuation was advised. Have an emergency kit ready to take with you (that’s Step 3). And if you have pets, think of someone who can take your pet(s) if you have to leave your home. Often, only service animals are allowed at receptions centres.
You may also want to consider what you will need to have if you take your pet with you. The “Special Considerations” section has more information about the supplies your pet may need during an emergency.
iii) Evacuation Route
Make sure everyone in your family knows how to safely exit your home—by a main exit and an alternate one. Be sure to consider your living situation. For instance, if you live in a high-rise and have special needs, talk to your building manager or neighbours to make special arrangements, if necessary.
iv) Emergency Numbers
Keep a listing of emergency numbers at the ready and make sure all members of your family know where they are. Teach children when and how to dial 9-1-1 and other key numbers they may need to call. Here are some numbers you should consider having on this list:
- Family Doctor
- Family & friends who can lend support in a crisis
- Insurance contact
- Utility companies
v) Fire and Other Safety
Follow general household safety rules for smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors and fire extinguishers. More information on how many to have, where to place them, how often to check and replace them can be obtained from your local fire department.
vi) Utility Shut-off Procedure
Every adult in your family, as well as older children, should also know how to turn off main utilities—water, electricity, gas. In certain emergencies, authorities will ask that these be turned off for safety reasons. Write out instructions, if needed, and post somewhere visible. Everyone should also know where the floor drain is located and ensure that it is not obstructed, in case of flooding.
vii) Important Documents
Make copies of important documents (insurance, main identification documents like driver’s license and passport, birth and marriage certificates, wills). Keep with your plan in a safe place. Consider sharing copies with out-of-town family members or keep a set in a safety deposit box.
viii) Emergency Planning and Safety Beyond Your Home
Inquire at your workplace, and your child’s school or daycare about their emergency plans. Find out about their evacuation plans and how they will contact family in an emergency. Make sure that you keep all relevant contact information up to date at work and at your child’s school or daycare, and make sure any people designated to pick up your child are familiar with your emergency plan.
Think of your neighbours. Identify anyone who may need assistance during an emergency and discuss a plan with them and other neighbours. For instance, help them prepare an emergency plan and emergency kit, and arrange to check in on that person during an emergency, like a power outage.
ix) Planning for Special Needs
If you or anyone in your family has special needs, be sure your plan reflects them. For instance, for someone with special medical needs or a medical condition, you may want to include in your plan a medical history, copies of prescriptions, information for key health-care contacts. Your emergency kit should also contain extra medications and supplies. You may not have access to conveniences, such as pharmacies, immediately after an emergency has occurred. It is also a good idea to teach others about any special needs, such as how to use medical equipment or administer medicine.
x) Special Considerations: Planning for Your Pets
Animals, like every other member of your family, deserve the protection and security of emergency preparation. A comprehensive emergency plan includes planning care for your pets before, during and after an emergency.
Before an emergency occurs, contact motels and hotels in communities outside of your area to find out if they will accept pets in an emergency. If you have made plans to evacuate to the home of a friend or family member, ask if you can bring your pets. It is also a good idea to ask your veterinarian if he/she will take your pets in an emergency.
Keep your pet’s shots current and know where the records are. Most kennels require proof of current rabies and distemper shots to accept pets. It is a good idea to keep these papers with the other documents you would carry if you need to evacuate.
xi) Other Tips
- Pack the contents of your kit (see step 3) in an easy-to-carry bag(s) or a case on wheels.
- Store your kit in a place that is easy to reach, and ensure that everyone in your family knows where it is.
- Your water supply is meant to cover what you would drink as well as what you might need for food preparation, hygiene and dishwashing.
- Check and refresh your kit twice a year including all expiry dates and replace food and water with a fresh supply. Check batteries and replace as needed.
- Keep your cell phone or mobile device fully charged.
For more tips and ideas to help with emergency preparedness, visit Public Safety Canada.
xii) When Your Plan Is Ready
Keep your plan in an easy to reach location. A good place is with your emergency kit. Make sure everyone in your family knows where to find it.
Discuss your plan with other family and friends so they know what you would do in an emergency. Once a year, review your plan with the entire family. Update it to reflect any changes you want to make. At the same time, refresh your emergency kit with new food, water and other supplies.
Step 3. Get or Build Your Emergency Kit
Your emergency kit should have everything you, your family and your pets would need to be safe and take care of yourselves for at least three days immediately following an emergency. The following list is broken down into the essentials, items you may need and should include in order to meet your family’s unique needs, and have ready in case you have to leave your home.
i) Family Essentials
- Food (non-perishable and easy-to-prepare items, enough for 3 days) and a manual can opener
- Bottled water (4 litres per person for each day)
- Radio (crank or battery-run)
- Extra batteries
- First-aid kit
- Candles and matches/lighter
- Hand sanitizer or moist towelettes
- Important papers (identification, contact lists, copies of prescriptions, etc.)
- Extra car keys and cash
- Whistle (to attract attention, if needed)
- Zip-lock bag (to keep things dry)
- Garbage bags
ii) Extra Supplies for Evacuation
- Clothes, shoes
- Sleeping bags or blankets
- Personal items (soap, toothpaste, shampoo, comb, other toiletries)
- Playing cards, travel games, other activities for children
iii) Special Considerations
- Items for babies and small children—diapers, formula, bottles, baby food, comfort items
- Prescription medication
- Medical supplies and equipment
- Any other items specific to your family’s needs
iv) Pet Essentials
- Food and water:
A seven day supply of food and drinking water in an airtight, waterproof container.
- Current photos of you and your pet:
If you become separated from your pet during an emergency, a picture of you with your pet will help you document ownership and enable others to help you identify your pet. Include detailed information about species, breed, age, sex, colour and distinguishing characteristics.
- Important documents:
Have up-to-date identification including an additional tag with the phone number of someone out of the evacuation area in the event the pet becomes lost.
- Medications, medical record:
Keep an extra supply of the medicines your pet takes on a regular basis in a waterproof container.
- First aid kit:
A pet first aid kit is the first step in being prepared should an animal emergency happen. Most kits should include cotton bandage rolls, bandage tape and scissors, antibiotic ointment, flea and tick prevention, latex gloves, an alcohol solution and a pet first aid reference book. (You may also want to talk to your veterinarian about what is most appropriate for your pet’s emergency medical needs.)
- Collar/harness, ID Tag and leash:
Your pet should wear a collar with its rabies tag and identification at all times. Include a back-up leash, collar and ID tag in your pet’s emergency supply kit.
- Crate or other pet carrier:
If you need to evacuate in an emergency situation, take your pet and animals with you in a carrier with blankets or towels for bedding and warmth. Carriers should be large enough to comfortably house your pet for several hours or even days. Familiar items should be included as they can help reduce stress for your pet.
Include pet litter, a litter box, paper towels, plastic trash bags and a container of household bleach to provide for pet sanitation.
When you are moving your pets, move them in a pet carrier that enables them to stand up and turn around inside. Train your pets to become comfortable with a carrier by putting food or a favorite toy or blanket in the carrier.
Special travel considerations for birds
- Birds should be transported in a secure travel crate or carrier.
- In cold weather, make certain you have a blanket over your pet’s cage. This may help to reduce the stress of traveling.
- In warm weather, carry a spray bottle to periodically moisten your bird’s feathers.
- Have recent photos available and keep your bird’s leg bands on for identification.
- If the carrier does not have a perch, line it with paper towels that you can change frequently.
- Keep the carrier in as quiet an area as possible.
- It is imperative that birds eat on a daily basis so purchase a timed feeder. If you need to leave your bird unexpectedly, the feeder will ensure its daily feeding schedule.
- Items to keep on hand: Catch net, heavy towel, blanket or sheet to cover the cage and a cage liner.
Special travel considerations for small animals
- Small animals such as hamsters, gerbils, mice and guinea pigs should be transported in secure carriers. Be sure to bring bedding materials, food and food bowls.
- Items to keep on hand: Salt lick, an extra water bottle, a small box or tube for the pet to hide in and a week’s worth of bedding.
During an emergency for pets
- Bring your pets inside immediately. Animals sometimes sense severe weather changes and might run away to hide.
- Never leave pets outside or tied up during a storm.
- If you must evacuate, take your pets, activate your emergency plan and bring your emergency supply kit.
- Separate pets for their safety.
- Cover bird cages with a cloth.
After an emergency for pets
- In the first few days after the event, leash your pets when they go outside and always maintain close contact. Familiar scents and landmarks may be altered and your pet may get confused or lost.
- Wild animals may have been brought into the area by flooding. Stress can make wild animals dangerous. Downed power lines are also a hazard for pets.
- Your pet's behavior may change after an emergency. Normally quiet and friendly pets may become aggressive or defensive. Watch your animals closely.
- For more help in managing your pet’s behaviour during this transition time, you can contact your veterinarian or your local humane society.
Be prepared to adapt this information to your personal circumstances and make every effort to follow instructions received from the authorities on the scene.
These simple preparations can help you be ready for the unexpected. Those who take time to prepare themselves and their pets will likely encounter less difficulty, stress and worry.
Take the time now to get yourself and your pet ready.