How ready are you for a prolonged emergency?

By Geoff Coleman

There are many positive aspects to life in the Kawartha Lakes, and you can add one more that might not typically come to mind: not a lot of emergencies.

The federal government actually keeps track of emergencies in a database with more than 1,000 entries in categories ranging from terrorist attacks to landslides. B.C. deals with wildfires, and the East Coast has to regularly endure hurricanes, but we only made the list once, thanks to a series of severe thunderstorms that knocked out power on April 25, 2009.

Many readers will remember the inconveniences and gas station lineups then but compared to the storm that went through our region in May this year, it wasn’t so bad. That storm left our harder hit neighbours over in Peterborough in worse shape than most of those in Kawartha Lakes. That includes people like Danielle Roberts, who lives in the south end of Peterborough, without power for over a week.

“About 45 minutes after the storm my power came back on for about three minutes and then it was back off again for eight days. On my street alone, every place — including my own — had at least two trees down, and the last six houses on the block each had four trees ripped out of their backyard. It was just unbelievable. My neighbour’s backyard fence was out in the middle of the road . . . one house had a tree on top of their truck and another tree on top of the garage . . . it was just unbelievable to see so much destruction. It really, really looked like a war zone.”

Similarly, Susan Oliver who calls “the Old West End” of Peterborough home, went a week without electricity. The area suffered extensive mature tree damage that hampered Hydro One’s restoration efforts. “Everything was an inconvenience — my dreams of a simpler life as a plucky pioneer were quickly dashed. No lights was okay as that was accommodated with flashlights and lanterns, but not having internet for work (I work from home) was problematic, and worrying about food spoilage was initially stressful. My husband is a contractor so was able to get a portable generator for the majority of the week. However, it required a lot of gas . . . of which there ended up being a short, expensive supply.”

It’s hard to deny that climate change will only mean more sudden, powerful storms, so it might be time for you to finally get together the things needed in the event of an extended power outage or other emergency. The Advocate spoke to two individuals who have taken the plunge to get themselves ready. Both were careful to say they don’t consider themselves “preppers,” a community that, at the extreme, believes civil unrest and a full societal breakdown is always just around the corner. Rather, the people we spoke to just want to be able to provide the necessities of life for their families in the case of an extended emergency.

One, who grew up in Lindsay and now lives in the Canadian West can’t speak publicly on the record due to his position in the Intelligence Department with the Canadian Armed Forces. He says being prepared is, “simply the ability to be self-sustaining for as long as possible in times of need, whatever the emergency may be.”

Mike Flannery gets a fire started. Photo: Geoff Coleman

The other, Mike Flannery, a new resident in Kawartha Lakes, previously lived on one of the Northern Gulf islands off Vancouver Island, making it critical that he and his wife Andrea be prepared for anything. “We had the threats of earthquakes, tsunamis and fires. We knew if there was a widespread power outage, our little island of 1,100 people would be one of the lowest priorities for BC Hydro.”

With extensive army training, my friend from the Forces has learned over a lifetime what needs to be at hand when an emergency occurs, and he really is ready for anything. Mike, on the other hand, bought a kit with the basics and augmented it with items recommended by the B.C. government, and that met his family’s own specific needs. Both have similar equipment and provisions that can be broken down into these broad categories: food, water, energy/fuel, medical and communication.

Flannery’s provisions include water, two weeks of food, a tarp, tent, makeshift toilet, sleeping bags, a radio and old cell phone, and medications. He put the supplies in rodent-proof bins on a handcart and stored it all in an outbuilding close to a window and door for ease of access. He stressed that cycling through the medications is important to maintain currency, so they would use them and replenish as needed. Ironically, during the five years they lived on the island, the longest they went without power was six hours. They have experienced longer outages in their 11 months here.

My old army buddy, as might be expected, has a more extensive inventory, but the basics are the same. His top priority is water during an extended emergency. “An individual can only last three days without water (or less), so considering where and how you can access water should concern every single citizen.”

Water stored in jerry cans or 55-gallon drums in a garage, or cases of bottled water, will get you through the initial stages, but if things get drawn out, you need the ability to filter new water you collect. Sawyer water filters are excellent resources which allow you to drink from lakes and ponds without danger of sickness.

For years, solar disinfection has been used to cleanse water. Proponents admit that it won’t remove chemicals already in the water, but when water drawn from a river or lake and stored in a pop bottle is left in full sun for six hours, any microorganisms in it are killed by the ultraviolet rays. This technique works with clear plastic PET bottles up to two litres in size.

Food preps, in the event of an emergency, come in various forms including bars, protein shakes and whatever you have in the fridge, canned goods and dry goods, and freeze-dried products. You can expect to get a five- to eight-year shelf life from preserves or canned goods, and up to 30 years for freeze-dried products like the Mountain House line, according to army guy who has researched this extensively.

Particularly in Canada, storage and access to forms of energy is a critical concern for emergency preparedness, given the extreme nature of our climate. Solar, gasoline, kerosene, batteries or firewood all have a place in providing energy, so the major believes, “a varied, structured plan, is absolutely required to understand what your personal requirements are, and how you can safely use generators, lanterns, fireplaces or stored resources for cooking, heating and sustaining a family over a long-term period.”

Fuel storage is part of being prepared.

He adds, “Personally, I invest in the preparation of firewood, store fuel for kerosene heaters, store extra gasoline for vehicles or generators, and have yet to invest in a portable solar panel which would be extremely helpful in sustaining battery-related devices. In addition to this, the simple investment in warm clothing and sleeping bags are always overlooked. For Canada, an effectively rated winter sleeping bag set for each member of the family could save a life if everything else fails.”

Medical requirements — from oxygen to CPAP machines to having an adequate supply of prescription medicine — present a challenge in an emergency. At the minimum, have medical kits in your vehicle, your home or when travelling. Some pre-assembled ones are really bad, containing little more than an aspirin, some kind of ointment that has dried up, and 500 bandages that are all the wrong size and won’t stick anyway, so consider making your own. Excellent books are available on basic first aid and usually include a section on compiling a kit.

Bandages, antiseptics and tourniquets should be in there, and Krazy Glue does an awesome job of sealing long, narrow cuts. And, though costly, it is now possible in Canada to buy antibiotics.

Communication and access to information are also important aspects to emergency preparedness. As the major points out, the ability to understand and react to information in an emergency can be the difference between life and death. “Investing in amateur radios (HAM), or portable radios linked to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is a critical resource that can guide you in making the right decisions for your family. Knowledge of coming storms, direction of forest fires, closures of roads, etc., will allow you to properly navigate potential threats ongoing in your region.”

Radios are inexpensive, and in some cases can operate with batteries, solar or crank functions, and will charge your phone. Satellite phones are still expensive, but the affordable Garmin inReach serves as a hand-held GPS, receives weather updates, can send an SOS signal, and lets you text other inReach users when you have a satellite subscription.

Even before the Rogers service interruption this summer, we all recognized how dependent we have become on wifi and cellular service. This is an area where it makes sense to hedge your bets and have home internet and cell from different providers. And given that payment by debit and credit also requires internet, keep cash on hand.

Of all the things you need to assemble, there is one resource that is harder to attain, but might be the most valuable of all: a network of people you can rely on.

Flannery recalls a visitor to their house in B.C. shortly after they settled in. “When we first moved there, a woman came by asking what stuff we had. We didn’t know it at the time, but the island was divided into quadrants, and each sector had a ’leader,’ for lack of a better word, responsible for adding things like our chainsaws, generator and water barrels to an island-wide inventory of emergency supplies. That was an indication that we were really going to be responsible for ourselves as a community.”

Danielle Roberts in Peterborough witnessed several instances of community-mindedness during the May power outage. “The thing I personally take the most from the experience was the community help.  For example, I had found a source for ice at my work that wasn’t hit by the outage. So I filled coolers with it, which I then brought home to share with a few sets of neighbours. Another neighbour was making sure everyone had propane because he had extra tanks from his cottage, and another neighbour owned a restaurant so he literally was handing out food to people who had no means to cook.

There was one business in town that was amazing though. John Johnston Plumbing found a few families that were left with no power and no water and brought them out generators, got their water going, and did it all free of charge, so to me that was just the kindest thing in the world.”

Major Tom, who has seen some things during his foreign deployments, tempers that rosy view of humankind with some sobering observations. “Although security is less likely to be an issue in Canada, my recent travels and living abroad caused me to realize the fragility of most systems throughout the world. Being prepared for an emergency all begins with your ability to secure whatever environment you’re going to be in for the long term. I’ve always been reminded that mankind’s morality is directly proportional to its access to resources — we are always three meals away from anarchy in true emergencies.”

Collectively, we need to lessen the burden, own the responsibility for protecting and providing for families, and plan accordingly. We could all be forced to respond to local disasters, or global conflicts, and those who have planned to develop skills and invest in resources will survive. The current generation’s dependencies on government resources is unequalled in history.”

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