First, the earth is undergoing significant weather pattern changes. It doesn’t really matter whether this is a result of global warming or not. The fact is, across the world weather disasters are becoming more regular and having a greater effect on humanity. ‘Flood of the Century’ and ‘Worst Storm in 200 Years’ are typical headlines.
People are also challenging nature. Urbanization is concentrating people in a smaller area, magnifying the effects when a disaster strikes. Amazingly, some people insist on ignoring dangerous situations, defying common sense by living on flood plains, in the middle of tinder-dry forests, and on the edge of cliffs. When you take on Mother Nature, you never win.
Finally, the nature of international conflict is changing. War was once confined to the battlefield; now it has entered our communities. What once only threatened soldiers now affects us all. The possibility of a terrorist attack, while remote, still exists.
Despite the overwhelming nature of most disasters, steps can be taken to minimize their effects and increase the likelihood of survival. Fortunately many of these steps are simple and inexpensive. Coupled with common sense (for instance, not building on the edge of a cliff), they can reduce the effects of the disaster.
Disaster preparedness works from the bottom up. The first line of defence and preparation is at the individual and family level, followed in turn by the neighborhood, municipality, province, and finally the national and international level. Each level complements and supports the others. Together, they form a strong disaster readiness web.
Every family and individual should have a disaster plan. These simple plans should be something everyone, including children, can understand. Remember, even a simple house fire would be a disaster for your family. Most municipalities and provinces have excellent websites and brochures that outline the steps for individual and family disaster preparedness.
Simple things can improve your ability to survive a disaster:
Neighborhoods provide an excellent structure for disaster preparedness. During the snowstorms that hit Victoria in 1996, neighbours banded together to shovel snow off roofs, clear streets and check on their neighbours. Communicate now to save time later. Who has an emergency generator? Who has an SUV, and knows how to use that snazzy winch on the front bumper? Do you have a doctor or nurse living on your street? Do you have neighbours that need specialized medical support such as dialysis or are physically challenged? There is strength in numbers. If you don’t have an existing neighborhood organization that can be used to do some disaster planning, approach your local government to set something up.
If the disaster exceeds the ability of the individual, family and neighborhood to respond, the next level is the municipality. Every municipality is required to have a disaster plan. This plan assesses vulnerabilities – the existing threats to the community. Guidelines for declaring a local state of emergency, specific disaster tasks for municipal departments, co-ordination of utilities, health support and other agencies, and contact numbers are all outlined. This plan should be publicly available, either in printed form or on the municipal website. As well, most communities have volunteer organizations such as Search and Rescue, Amateur Radio,
the Salvation Army, and St. John Ambulance that give you the opportunity to participate in disaster preparedness.
If a municipality is unable to fully deal with a disaster, the next level of assistance is the province. Provincial emergency management organizations (EMOs) will activate provincial emergency plans and will co-ordinate support from other municipalities and from provincial resources. For example, both Vancouver and Calgary have well-trained Heavy Urban Search and Rescue Teams which can be requested through the provincial EMO.
Finally, in those rare events where the scope of the disaster overwhelms even provincial resources, the federal government, through the Office of Critical Infrastructure Protection and Emergency Preparedness, will coordinate support. Federal resources, the Canadian Forces, other provinces, and even other countries may be involved. Since September 11, 2001, great efforts have been taken at the national level to improve our disaster preparedness, particularly in response to a terrorist attack.
Have a personal or family emergency plan. Organize your neighborhood to respond to a disaster. Be aware of your municipal disaster plan. In the event of a disaster, a little preparation can go a long way.