At a recent Tribe Management event for Strata Council and Condo Board members, we welcomed a guest speaker from the City of Vancouver to cover the age-old topic of Emergency Preparedness (EPP). While it is something discussed with regularity on the west coast, many of us are admittedly underprepared. When we surveyed councils last year, this topic received the most votes to be our next Open House + Speaker Series.
Our speaker DJ Lawrence peppered us with real-world disaster experience including forest fires, sub-station power outages, pandemics, derailments, toxic spills, gas leaks, terrorist attacks…and of course, earthquakes.
The key takeaway from the evening wasn’t doom-and-gloom, Walking Dead type outcomes, rather that anyone who has even a little idea of what to do in an emergency and what to expect from first responders is:
a) More psychologically prepared than they were yesterday, and
b) Statistically going to have a better outcome than if they didn’t know anything about EPP
Rest assured, by the time you finish reading this blog post you’ve already increased your chances of survival in a disaster. We have shared some of DJ Lawrence’s key points below.
Have a basic emergency plan
Arguably, the scariest part of an earthquake, or any disaster when it happens, is not the event itself, it is the disconcerting question of where are your loved ones?
It is important to have a plan to connect everyone up after an emergency. For example, if you are home and live in a house and there is a fire, the fire alarm goes off.
You’ve got a plan: “We are going to meet at a tree out front of the house.” But what if you live in an apartment building and there are 50 people hanging out at the same tree looking for their loved ones?
According to Lawrence, it is important to think about the scenario and then apply that to your particular circumstances.
You’re in an apartment building. The tree up front isn’t so good. So you pick a spot within eyesight, just down the block.
Maybe it is the 711 on the corner, or the coffee shop. It doesn’t matter what the place is, as long as everybody knows what the plan is and where you are going to meet. Further to that, if for some reason your neighborhood is evacuated you want to have something within about a kilometer, easy walking distance and close enough that you can get there and be aware of what is going on in your neighborhood without actually being in it.
This could be a hazmat incident, a major fire or a police stand-off. You might also want to pick a third meeting spot approximately 5 kms out that everyone knows, in case an entire suburb or city is evacuated.
The key here is in making sure everyone knows the address, and not only has it recorded somewhere like in their phone, but they have also been there and know roughly where it is or know enough about it that they can ask people for help in getting there.
Emergency routes and search grids
Human beings are creatures of habit. Everyone has a usual way they take from Point A to Point B, from work to home for example. Stick to those routes.
If you typically have a walking route home, take that walking route. But if that route is blocked, then Lawrence explains that it is important to leave a note somewhere in case a family member or friend comes looking for you.
Example scenario one:
Lawrence and his wife have come up with a plan that includes leaving a note on the northeast corner of the place where they could be setting out from during an emergency situation.
This narrows the search parameter to approximately 100 feet. (Reducing search parameters is something Lawrence learned while working with the coast guard).
After 9/11. For example, people were putting up notes and posters looking for loved ones. If you put those notes and posters using an agreed upon method, they are more likely to be successful tools in reconnecting you to each other.
Things to put in your note include important details such as who you are with and where you might be going to next. Ie. “Mom is okay, we’re going to dad’s office.” Lawrence is quick to add that in a major disaster you are unlikely to be walking around with pens and notepads, so make do with what you can find, even if that’s a tube of lipstick.
Example scenario two:
When it comes to travelling home, Lawrence suggest using the same method – for his family this means sticking with the northeast. If they typically take an East-West corridor home, such as Hastings or Pender streets, and they are blocked, then they will take the street to the north.
It doesn’t matter if it is a major street or a minor street, Lawrence explains that you’ve just cut the search grid by 50 per cent.
Out-of-Town Emergency Contacts
Make one out-of-town person your emergency contact, ie. your brother Jim in Kelowna. Not just for you to reach out to, but for your other friends and family to contact for updates about you.
While you might want to call everyone you know to let them know you are okay, you are using valuable battery life, data and time to go through your favourite five or 10 people and update them one-by-one.
Another thing to consider with emergency contacts, is that odds are someone out-of-town is going to have better access to bandwidth and media sources than someone right in the thick of things. You might be on a street surrounded by glass and downed power lines, but little do you know that there is a hazmat situation breaking out several blocks over from where you are.
The person sitting miles away in the comfort of their home with the TV on is likely going to see that story unfolding on the news and can provide you with situational updates.
Safety in Numbers
They key here is in community, and looking after each other. Whether you are setting out from work, school or your apartment building and heading to a meeting spot, it is important to travel in numbers.
According to Lawrence, who has lived through several disaster situations, if someone comes up to you and says, “give me your water”, that person is going to have a more difficult time getting it from 10 people than one.
“There is going to be good, bad and ugly in every neighborhood. Some people will help you, some will try to harm you and take your stuff. A group of people going out of their way together is good. If you turn an ankle, somebody is there to help you. If you need help carrying water jugs, you have a team.”
Securing furniture in your home
If you are anything like us, you probably haven’t thought much about drinking the water from your hot water tank…but the reality is, it is going to be a very handy water source in a disaster.
This means that making sure it won’t tip over is paramount. Strapping your hot water tank down is going to cost you a little bit of time and money, but it could be a lifesaver.
Not only do you want to protect this water source, but you don’t want it falling onto anyone or tipping and causing a fire if it is gas powered. Strapping things down goes for all big items in your home – large pieces of furniture can either kill you, cause injury or block accesses.
Drop, cover, hold on
The standard tried-and-tested advice during an earthquake is to drop, cover and hold on. If you try to run out the door, something might fall on you – bricks, building facades, trees.
According to Lawrence, who has done training with Canada Task Force One, the people who survive a collapsed building are the ones who were tucked under solid furniture like desks and kitchen tables. If you don’t have a solid table to get under, then get next to a load-bearing wall, drop and protect your head and neck with your hands.
Even if you have to shove your head under a chair, you will be better protected from flying glass or falling debris.
Additional Emergency Preparedness Training
Whether you are looking for some extra training for building staff, your Strata Council or a work team, Lawrence says there are some great training exercises that anyone can take part in or volunteer for, “Light urban search and rescue is a great training option. There are companies that do that, and the city does it off and on. But if you have a strata where people are interested in doing this, it’s a good team building exercise.”
Some additional resources to check out include:
City of Vancouver Public Safety – https://vancouver.ca/home-property-development/public-safety.aspx
City of Vancouver – Emergency food, water and sanitation – https://vancouver.ca/home-property-development/store-emergency-food-and-water.aspx
BC Provincial Government Emergency Preparedness Response & Recovery – https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/safety/emergency-preparedness-response-recovery