What to do in an emergency situation

UAlberta experts offer tips for evacuations or when power is lost.

No one wants to think about having to flee their homes from fire or flood, but it's smart to plan ahead just in case.

"The most common assumption people make is that emergency preparedness is hard," said Adam Conway, a team lead of Emergency Management at the University of Alberta. "But by planning for the unexpected, you'll make smarter decisions."

Albertans have already experienced their share of disasters-massive floods in Calgary and High River in 2013, the devastating Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016 and this year, flooding in various parts of the province that required urgent response, including some evacuation. Wildfires have also flared.

"Don't think it can't happen to you," said Louis Francescutti, an injury prevention researcher in the School of Public Health. "It will at some point in life."

When the moment comes, it can be easy to let adrenaline cloud common-sense planning, Conway said. "When it hits, you're going to make rapid, instinctive decisions and we want people to be more contemplative about it."

Whether you're forced to hole up at home or leave it in a hurry, it's essential to have a few basics on hand for three days minimum, year round, Conway advised.

Here's what to keep in mind:

For home evacuation

Have a family reunification plan.

"If it's a daytime evacuation, as it was in the Fort McMurray wildfire, families are separated at work or at school, so you need to establish a reunification plan ahead of time. Have each family member call an out-of-province friend or relative to report your locations, and that person becomes the messenger for the family."

Keep a 'grab and go' kit by the front door.

Conway recommends using knapsacks, which can be worn hands-free. Pack a change of clothes for everyone, important documents like drug prescriptions, passports, wills and insurance policies, which can also be stored electronically or photographed on a cellphone, Conway said. Also include a flashlight, extra batteries, toiletries, matches and fully charged cellphones.

Take a deck of cards or books.

"You'll need something to do, a way to keep busy, when you get to the evacuation centre if you have to wait several hours. It helps the time pass and provides a distraction from stress and worry."

Other tips

Shut off the water main in the house to avoid risk of further damage.

Lock all doors and windows.

Take enough cash to cover expenses for food, fuel and hotels, but not too much, Conway said. "Going down the road with a car full of cash and valuables makes it no safer with you than it was in the house and it could increase the risk of theft or damage."

Have a first-aid kit. Francescutti advises people to be up to date on first-aid training and CPR.

Keep your vehicle's gas tank at least half full at all times to avoid long waits to fill up and to travel long distances if necessary.

Make a plan for pets. "Take them with you if you can, but don't go home to get them unless the authorities say you have time. First responders work very hard to retrieve them, but only when it's safe," Conway said. For small pets like dogs, cats, reptiles and rabbits, have food, leashes, cages and carriers ready. "Your pet will not be welcome to run loose in an evacuation centre."

For livestock and large pets like horses, specialized evacuation planning is required.

For staying home

Severe weather or a major loss of infrastructure, such as the power grid, can mean having to go without water, power and heat, but it's no reason to panic, Conway said. "Our great-grandparents lived this way 100 years ago with some planning and proper supplies, so we can follow their example."

Stockpile at least three days' worth of water and canned food.

If you're using a generator, ensure it is in good working order and filled with fuel. And have extra fuel on hand.

Make sure to have proper ventilation if using camp stoves and other fuelled devices indoors. "Carbon monoxide poisoning is a risk," Francescutti warned.

More information on emergency planning is available from the Alberta Emergency Management Agency.


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