Canada's Condominium Magazine

Condo emergency preparedness: being proactive so you, your family and neighbours are safe

Natural disasters, rampaging fires, blackouts, and other emergencies have seen a great deal of coverage over the past decade. From Hurricanes in Haiti and the US to terrifying wildfires and other disasters around the world, it seems that no place is completely immune. In Canada, we are no strangers to emergencies.

 

The propane gas explosion in 2008 (at Keele Street and Wilson Avenue) in Toronto, dubbed the Sunrise Propane Incident, caused evacuation of thousands and shut down Toronto’s main highway artery. There was one fatality.

 

In 2008, a propane explosion rocked the city. Thousands of people had to be evacuated, and even the 401 Highway — Toronto’s main artery — was shut down. This “mini” disaster pales next to what potentially can happen in any urban area. Readiness is the key to coping with these types of emergencies.

After the 2008 gas explosion, which caught everyone from residents to the city offguard, the highway 401 was shut down. New rules and guidelines and emergency preparedness plans evolved out of this disaster. Photo by Kenny Louie, Wiki Commons Licence.

Canada Can Have Disasters

We may feel safe from hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes, but Canada has its share of deadly emergencies. We had a SARS epidemic that killed many and strained our emergency response system. In 1965, the Great Northeast Blackout began the evening of November 9th, leaving millions of people stranded, plunged into darkness which enveloped portions of Canada and the United States. Residents were left without power for thirteen hours. Over 5,000 officers and National Guardsmen were brought in to assist those in need and prevent looting. The blackout was caused by a single, 230-kilovolt transmission line near Ontario, which caused five other to become overloaded within seconds.

In 2003, Ontario once again saw a massive blackout. The subway in Toronto halted, and commuters were forced to walk home through stalled traffic. Power was out in parts of Canada and the United States. Fifty million people were affected. The Bruce B Nuclear Station had gone off-grid. Chaos ensued.

 

Lightning storms can cause localized blackouts that can be dangerous to the elderly or infirm in a high rise with no elevators (during a blackout.). Heat waves can cause grid failure, sometimes for days.

 

Our grid’s problems began in Cleveland, Ohio. Unbearable heat resulted in a demand for more power, which strained and overloaded transmission lines. Contact between one of these lines and a tree caused a loss of power in such a way that the situation could not properly be assessed for three-and-a-half hours. By that time, Ontario and several US states were without power.

Blackouts Dangerous — Not Just an Inconvenience

Unfortunately, blackouts such as these are far more than simple inconveniences. Aside from the obvious problems such as lack of air conditioning and loss of food and business capabilities, more important problems arose during these and similar blackouts. Without power, residents of condos as well as business professionals were trapped. Seniors and disabled people were in danger.

 

With elevators out, in an emergency, emergency teams and firefighters may have to resort to ladders which only reach up a limited number of floors. Evacuation by ladder is slow, dangerous and frightening.

 

Elevators could not operate, and undoubtedly some people became trapped in them. The situation was especially difficult for seniors as well as people with medical or physical conditions that left them unable to travel down flights of stairs. They were stranded and left without help for quite some time. Some areas were back up and running later that night, while others remained in the dark for nearly thirty hours.

Fire Burns Fast — Readiness is Key

Fires are also a threat in any area. Whether it is a raging block-fire, or one started at home, it can have a huge impact. A fire broke out at a pawn shop once, and it took out the neighbouring businesses and community theatre.

 

Modern high rises and condos have powerful anti-fire capabilities, but there can be emergencies where the fire gets out of control in any building.

 

Fires can get out of control fast, cause a great deal of damage and be deadly — and, they travel fast — especially in condos and other high rises where people may be unable to escape in time. Smoke can be more deadly than flames, especially in elevator shafts and stairways.

As you can see, blackouts and other potential threats can cause a great deal of problems, and we need to be prepared in the event that something like this happens again. A system needs to be in place in order to ensure that the elderly, ill, and injured have a safety net on which to rely if they are ever trapped for any reason. Condos, hotels, and other high rises need to have professionals available to come in and assist those in need whenever problems such as these arise.

Emergency Kits and Food

On a more personal level, we each are responsible for ensuring our own safety as well as that of the people around us.

 

An Emergency Preparedness Kit, with first aid supplies, flashlight, matches, knife and other items is a MUST in any home —condo or detached home makes no difference.

 

Emergency preparedness kits and food supplies are especially beneficial during situations where we may be trapped without access to food and supplies.

You can order these online or prepare them yourself based on your own individual needs. If you know someone in your building who would be in a terrible situation should disaster strike, be sure to help them now so that they too can be prepared. Offer them your home and your help should they need it.

Evacuation Plans with Neighbours

Communicate with your neighbours and set up a plan of action, where everyone has an important role to play so that everyone’s safety is ensured. While some people may not be able to climb stairs due to physical impairments, a particularly strong person may be able to carry or otherwise assist them in getting to safety.

Alternately, someone with medical expertise or a neighbour who is able to act as caregiver might offer to stay with or check on those who might need them. Every person or family should have their own 72-hour food supply, as well as first aid kits and other items that may be needed for disasters or other emergencies that could affect their particular area.

 

Don’t forget some key items to make yourself, and your family, safe in an emergency:

  • battery operated radio: so that you can find out what’s happening
  • fire extinguisher
  • bottled water
  • blankets and flashlights
  • surgical masks in the event of epidemic (such as SARS.)

In order to be fully prepared, you need to have a checklist in place so that everything you need is readily available and nothing is forgotten in all the chaos. Do some research and find out all the potential disasters and threats that your area could potentially face. Contact professionals to find out how you and your neighbours or coworkers could be prepared for these situations. Create an evacuation plan if one is not already in place and practice it so that you are comfortable and confident when the time comes.

 

Remember to plan for the elderly and infirm on your floor. Make it a point to meet your neighbours on your floor and plan for an evacuation — just in case.

 

Remember the Elderly and Disabled on Your Floor

Also, you should ask about assistance for elderly and disabled persons. Is there a plan on your floor for evacuating the infirm, especially if elevators are not moving due to fire or power failure? Plan how to evacuate elderly and disabled people — with any neighbours who are willing. At the moment of an emergency, it may be too late.

Again, prepare your kits and food supplies and have them packed in an easily accessible area. The best place to store these items is in a closet or other area near exits so that you can quickly grabbed them on your way out in the event that evacuation is necessary.

The All-Important Emergency Kit

Most kits are created to last for 72 hours. However, if your area is prone to disasters that have the potential to last even longer, you should be prepared for that. However, do not overprepare to the point that you and your family are not able to easily carry these items. You do not want to waste valuable time and risk your safety because you need to go through and eliminate half your kit.

Some suggestions for your kit include the following:

  • a supply of water
  • first aid supplies
  • knife and tape
  • blankets or sleeping bags
  • a change of clothing or two
  • rain gear
  • diaper bag for infants and toddlers
  • credit cards and cash (and, in case one form of payment is not accepted during the emergency, a list of family physicians, and a supply of non-perishable food.)

You can add more items depending on your specific needs, but be sure that you do not prepare more than you are able to carry in the event you need to evacuate. Be safe and look out for one another.

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