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It can happen to You
In late August 2015, Metro Vancouver and parts of Vancouver Island in British Columbia suffered through a severe wind and rain storm. Hundreds of trees were uprooted and large areas were without power for several days. BC Hydro stated that 710,000 — half of its customers — lost power due to the storm; they called it "the single largest outage event" in the utility's history.
According to an article from CBC: "BC Hydro [had] nearly 500 employees from around the province working in the Metro Vancouver area to restore power, responding to 1,800 incidents — roughly the same amount they usually address in a month."
BC Hydro explained to its customers in an email after the storm: "...over the course of three days, crews replaced approximately 200 power poles and 500 broken cross-arms on pole-tops, fixed 25 damaged transmission circuits and replaced 10,000 metres of wire and more than 1,200 pieces of electrical equipment."
As well, during the summer of 2015, BC experienced one of the worst fire seasons ever. The total forest burned (as of Aug. 17, 2015) was 3,004,848 hectares. That’s a larger area than the island of Sicily. Evacuations occurred often and sometimes with little notice, keeping people off-guard and having to run for their lives.
Finally, in the fall of 2021, Metro Vancouver suffered through a series of "atmospheric river" conditions and many areas were flooded; worse still, the infrastructure of the province was severely damaged, cutting off major highways; Vancouver experienced a serious supply chain issue while the roads were repaired.
We can more-than-likely expect more extreme weather changes as our planet continues to heat up. Here's a discussion about that from Discovery Channel titled "10 Signs Climate Change is Already Happening":
"...There have always been and always will be storms and heatwaves. Climate scientists are careful not to scribe any specific weather event to global warming. However, climate creates the conditions in which weather takes place... and scientists have long suspected that a changing climate will make certain weather events more likely and others more extreme....
"For example, a warming ocean, while actually making it more difficult for hurricanes to form, is leading to [stronger] hurricanes when they do form. When major storms do strike, higher sea levels will result in greater storm surges and coastal flooding. As the Arctic warms, circumpolar wind patterns are becoming disrupted, altering the course of the jet stream, which steers weather systems from west to east around the northern hemisphere. As a consequence, says a recent study, the jet stream is becoming “wavier,” with steeper troughs and higher ridges.
"Weather systems in turn are progressing more slowly, raising the chances for long-duration extreme events, like droughts, floods, extreme snowfall in winter, and heat waves. Recent studies have attributed some recent rainfall extremes to climate change, with a warmer atmosphere able to hold more moisture, while others indicate that many recent heat-waves would not have occurred without global warming."
What kind of emergencies should you prepare for?
Emergencies can trap us in our homes with no power (and little food or water) for several hours or days. Trapped in our home, we will need to wait out the storm and its aftermath, and hopefully have enough supplies to last us for the duration.
Other types of emergencies — a forest fire, earthquake, or flood — can cause us to leave our home. Some may live near an active volcano, or in an area where there are tornadoes or hurricanes. In each of these situations, we must be prepared to leave at a moment's notice, taking with us our most precious possessions and gear that will help us through the next few days or perhaps weeks.
You will decide what types of emergencies to prepare for, partly based on your own previous experiences and where you live. What you store and keep in your home will be based on those expectations and previous experiences, as well as the likelihood that you will either have to remain in your home, or flee. In many cases, you have to prepare for both.
Older adults are more vulnerable in these situations and may need to take more precautions than others do.
Start with a Checklist of the Essential Items you Need
If you believe that it is most likely that you will need to remain inside because of a power outage, then your checklist should include the following (these items could also be taken with you, if necessary):
- Water (one gallon per person per day for at least three days);
- Non-perishable food for three days (canned or dehydrated);
- Battery-powered or hand crank radio;
- Flashlight (and possibly a head lamp);
- First aid kit and a first aid book;
- Whistle to signal for help;
- Dust mask to help filter contaminated air;
- Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation;
- Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities;
- Manual can opener;
- Local maps;
- Cell phone with charger;
- Extra batteries for the flashlight and radio;
- Fire Extinguisher;
- A sign for your window telling emergency crews that you are there and require assistance.
If you put most of these items in a backpack, then you will also be able to quickly pick it up and take it with you.
If you think you will have to leave, you need more items!
If you believe that you will most likely have to evacuate, then your checklist should include all of the above in addition to the following:
- Prescription medications and glasses;
- Pet food and extra water for your pet;
- Plastic sheeting and duct tape or a tent to create a shelter;
- Cash or traveler’s checks;
- Important family documents such as copies of insurance policies, identification and bank account record, preferably in a waterproof, portable container;
- Complete change of clothing including a long sleeved shirt, long pants and sturdy shoes. Consider additional clothing if you live in a cold-weather climate;
- Household chlorine bleach (no scents, colour-safe or added cleaners) and a medicine dropper (Nine parts water to one part bleach can be used as a disinfectant. Use 16 drops of regular household liquid bleach per gallon of water to treat the water.);
- Matches in a waterproof container;
- Personal hygiene items;
- Paper cups, plates, paper towels and plastic utensils;
- Paper and note pad (or an iPad);
- Personal and/or sentimental items that cannot be replaced.
Special Concerns for the Older Adult
As my participants (many of whom are in the older adult category) came to fitness class after the outage, many mentioned to me their special circumstances. Here are some questions that you need to find answers to:
- Does your building have an elevator that works with a generator?
- If not, can you get down the stairs on your own?
- If you cannot, is there someone nearby who could help you?
- How long will the emergency lights last in your building?
- Once the emergency lights go off, do you have a good supply of flashlights and batteries in order to travel the hallways and/or stairways?
- Do you have a cell phone if the land phone is not working?
- How will you contact friends and family?
- Do you have medical equipment that requires power? If you do, what will you do if you do not have access to it during a power outage?
Knowing the answers to these questions will help an older adult to make plans for an emergency. Having friends or relatives nearby who can help is especially useful while communication with your doctor regarding medical equipment is imperative. A well-stocked pantry and emergency supplies become essential.
There are Many Websites that Help
You can find many emergency preparedness websites to give you even more advice. Here are just a few:
- The British Columbia Government provides information and suggestions for kits and storage of supplies.
- The Canadian Government also provides a website devoted to these issues.
- Many news agencies provide information. After the recent storm, Global News provided an article about what to have stocked in your home.
- The Red Cross provides a great deal of information.
- St John Ambulance provides kits and courses in emergency preparedness.
- Many companies provide kits such as these at Canadian Safety Supplies.
- There are several Apps that you can use on your phone which also give you suggestions for preparing for an emergency. Here is a list of some which are now available.
None of us likes to think about emergencies. We live in a very comfortable situation in North America, yet these tragedies can occur and do everywhere on this continent. We are not immune to them, and it therefore behooves us to be prepared. During the recent power outage, there were many complaints about BC Hydro and how quickly (or slowly) they got the power restored. We can't control the storm — or how quickly things get back to normal — but we can prepare for it so we can live through it.
Two final things to consider:
Put aside a small amount of money in savings to help re-stock your refrigerator and freezer if the power is out for a long time. A government website says this: "Is food in the refrigerator safe during a power outage? It should be safe as long as power is out no more than 4 hours. Keep the door closed as much as possible. Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and leftovers) that have been above 40°F for over 2 hours." 2
Talk to your closest friends and relatives about how to contact each other after a storm or disaster; make arrangements to meet somewhere, if possible, if all lines of communication are down.
And you may ask if I have an emergency kit with these items? The answer is "yes, I do." I have had it ever since we moved to Vancouver and knew that an earthquake was a possibility.
I am a BCRPA-certified fitness instructor in Vancouver, BC. I teach four classes at the West End Community Centre in Vancouver, BC, mostly designed for the older adult. The Inevitable Disclaimer: Everything published here expresses only my opinion, based on my training and research. What you do with the information is entirely your own responsibility. I am not liable for any injury you suffer that seems to be related to anything you read here. Always consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program. For other articles, return to the table of contents.