Know your local hazards. This knowledge will help you plan for emergencies.
Thinking about disasters can be overwhelming. Every year, the news is full of stories about earthquakes, hurricanes, and other emergencies. You might have lived through some of these yourself. If so, you especially understand the importance of preparing ahead. Knowing your local hazards, and having the right supplies on hand in case of a flood or power outage, for instance, can make the experience a lot less stressful.
Preparedness isn’t only about having supplies on hand. In order to know what supplies you need, first you should understand what you’ll need them for.
Step one of emergency readiness: Know the risks and hazards in your area.
Which local hazards can you name?
When you think of your local hazards, what comes to mind? For us here on the west coast, our list might include earthquakes, tsunamis, and wildfires. However, there are a lot of other risks we might not think of right away! In 2021 alone, British Columbians also experienced landslides, extreme heat, extreme cold, major flooding, and of course, the COVID-19 pandemic.
That’s a lot of emergencies! You may wonder: “How am I supposed to prepare for all of these?”
The good news is, most of your planning and supplies will work for multiple emergencies.
To get started, find a list of your local hazards (check your municipality or province’s website!) and answer the following questions. You can use your answers to get started on building your personalized emergency plan.
You can also download the companion worksheet to print and fill out with your household, employees, or students.
1. What are the main dangers caused by each hazard?
Your geographic area present will different local hazards. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we are far less likely to experience extreme sub-zero temperatures bringing with them the risk of blizzards and frostbite. However, we still run the risk of hypothermia if exposed to cold winter temperatures for long periods. The mitigation of hypothermia is fairly straight-forward and common-sense however. Stay warm, avoid prolonged exposure to the elements, and protect yourself with socks, gloves, a scarf, and a hat.
For heatwaves, dehydration, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke top the list of potential threats. Carry a water bottle and keep it filled. Don’t leave your pets or children in cars. Understand what the symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke look like, and keep an eye out for them in yourself and anyone in your care, such as children, pets, or elderly family members. The memory of the 2021 Western North America Heat-dome is still fresh in the minds of many British Columbians, but continues to have affect on both marine and land-based ecosystems.
Living outside urban centers also has an effect on what is considered a local hazard. For those in more rural and more mountainous environments, landslides and mudslides are more of a concern. Landslides can block evacuation routes or even sweep cars and houses away. Learn about alternate escape routes in your area and keep a vehicle emergency kit in your trunk in case you get stranded on the road.
Similarly, those living in flood-zones and near rivers also may have contrasting concerns. Following the deadly heat-dome in 2021 in BC, the November atmospheric river brought unprecedented rains devastating highway infrastructures, and work still continued into August 2022 restoring the affected roads. Not only did these floods create huge supply chain issues, but also caused concerns of contaminated water, and livestock and crop losses prompting a Flood Recovery Program for Food Security as well. Despite this having been record amounts of rain, eve deceptively ‘low’ amounts of 6″ of fast-moving flood waters can sweep a person off their feet, and unmoving water can hide potential hazards such as sharp objects, toxic material spills, or downed electrical lines.
2. Will I have to evacuate, or should I shelter in place?
Many people assume that they will have to leave their home if disaster strikes, but that isn’t necessarily the case. Often, your home will be the safest place to be. Your local authorities may advise you to “shelter in place.”
If you have ever stayed home during a major storm or a power outage, congratulations! You’ve already experienced sheltering in place. What are some other instances when you may have to stay at home for your safety?
- After a major earthquake, but only if your home has not sustained major structural damage/is safe to inhabit
- In the event of nearby threats such as an active shooter, a possible bomb, or rioting
- In case of a gas leak
- If there is a hazardous material spill
And that’s just to name a few. Depending on the emergency, some general ‘to-dos’ for sheltering in place can include sealing entrances to the home (including air intakes and stove vents), staying away from doors and windows, closing interior doors, and limiting your movement to only one or two rooms.
3. Will I be able to access a store during an emergency?
Some reasons you may not be able to get to the grocery store:
- Authorities have advised sheltering in place
- Your exit routes are blocked by flooding, landslides, or other debris
- Stores may be closed due to storms or localized unsafe conditions
Think about what items you would need to last you for up to two weeks in case you can’t re-stock your supply. You might have water, but how about food?
We recommending aiming for 2,000 calories per person per day if possible. For reference, one can of baked beans might average around 588 calories—if you were to subsist on beans alone, that would equal about 4 cans of beans per person per day.
4. How long is this emergency likely to last?
A common theme for these questions is how your local area affects your local hazards, especially regarding infrastructure and emergency response. For instance, a power outage may last anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks depending on where you live. However, many incidents have long-lasting effects. A major earthquake usually lasts less than five minutes, but in many cases, the aftermath can still be felt years later. And, as we talked about above, you may not be able to access a grocery store for an extended period of time. How long might that be?
Consider also how quickly help will arrive. The further you are from a major metropolitan area, the longer it will take before emergency personnel are able to reach you.
Knowing what to expect will help you calculate what supplies you’ll need on hand, as well as what accommodation arrangements you may need to make in advance.
5. What other factors would make this emergency more dangerous?
Sometimes, several emergencies might occur at once, often as a result of the same event. What seems like an inconvenience by itself might prove deadly in the wrong conditions. If the power goes out during a bout of extreme heat or cold, for example, it may be a lot harder to keep a safe body temperature.
What are some other examples of concurrent events that could pose a risk?
- Severe windstorms may cause flooding, power outages, and downed power lines
- Earthquakes may cause buildings to collapse, fires to start, and tsunamis
- Below-zero temperatures can cause pipes to burst and make roads and walkways slippery
6. What extra supplies will I need to keep myself and my household as safe as possible during this emergency?
This is assuming you already have your core basics for an emergency kit, now you should consider what extra supplies you’ll need to add to it.
Don’t have your basic kit yet? Check out What You Need to Know About Emergency Survival Kits.
Food & Water
How much food and water do you already have in your kit? Our 2-person essentials kit comes with 7,200 calories in food bars and 1.5L of water in pouches, but we recommend a minimum of 2,000 calories per person per day if you can swing it. The stress of an emergency will take a toll on your body—you will need to adequately nourish and hydrate yourself.
Consider your answer to question 4. How long will it be before help arrives? Use this formula to determine what you should aim to have on hand for the emergency that will last the longest:
[# of people] x [# of days before you’ll have access to additional food/water] x [daily required amount of food or water]
Other Tools & Supplies
What were the local hazards you listed in answers 1 and 3? Think about the kinds of tools that might counteract those hazards. We gave a few examples earlier, but what are some others you can think of? (Comment on this article with your ideas!)
7. What steps will I have to follow to get to safety during this emergency?
Finally, what happens during the emergency itself? Once you’ve determined the answer for question 2, consider what you’ll need to do when evacuating or sheltering in place.
It’s best to figure that out now; you will likely have little or no time to make these plans while an emergency is happening.
Get Prepared Canada has some excellent resources for the things you need to do in the event of different emergencies. They explain what steps to take if you have to evacuate, how to set up your home (or wherever you are) if you need to shelter in place, and even what to do in case of a major police event.
What comes next?
If you filled out a worksheet for each hazard, make copies for everyone in your household (or class, or office!) and add them to your emergency kit. Thinking of making an emergency planning binder? These worksheets would make an excellent starter.
We also recommend having a ‘master’ emergency plan with everything you’ll need on it, including contacts and a reunification plan. Check out our article How to Make a Family Emergency Plan for more details!