How to prepare for climate disasters

Lifestyle Sports | Lifestyle

What you can do ahead of time to be ready

Graphic by Sie Douglas-Fish

The heat dome that swept across British Columbia this summer caught many of us unprepared. We scrambled for fans and googled ways to keep ourselves cool because, despite the warnings, extreme heat was not a climate event a lot of us had planned for. 

This summer was a wake-up call for many. Climate change is no longer a distant thing, but something direct and tangible. With climate events beginning to turn into a fact of life for many people in Victoria, it’s important to be prepared for them. Here are some ways you can be prepared for the next climate emergency.

Build an emergency kit

An emergency kit is essential, but how do you build one? One important frame of mind is to picture yourself preparing for an, at minimum, three-day camping trip in the bush. If you were to go on said camping trip, what would you need? 

For starters, you’ll need a first aid kit and some clothes, shoes, a supply of bottled water, a phone charger, personal toiletries, and a flashlight or two. When packing food try to think of food that is easy to prepare and can be eaten quickly without cooking. You can also think about preparing copies of important documents, like a passport, as well as keeping some cash in the kit. 

It is also important to note that this kit should be stored where you can quickly grab it on your way out of a building. This is known as a ‘grab-bag’, so you can grab it and go as quickly as possible. When it comes to something like an emergency kit, this is not something you should make at the last minute when an alert is made. This is something made days, weeks, or months ahead of time. On top of that, this isn’t something you make once and forget about. Keep returning to it to make sure everything is up to date — medications and the like aren’t expired, batteries are fully charged, and so on. 

Preparing for excessive rain and flooding

Rainstorms can turn on a dime, and combined with wind, can easily take out your power. As I am writing this, Vancouver Island is still recovering from a heavy rainstorm that resulted in flooding and power outages. Merritt, Princeton, and Abbotsford had to be evacuated as a result. 

To prepare for future flooding or other climate-related evacuations, one of the things you’ll need is an evacuation plan. 

The details will vary from person to person, and place to place, but here are the basics to keep in mind when making one. You should take note of safe exits, possible meeting places, emergency contacts, insurance information, any important pet information, and the locations of key things in your house like the gas valve, electrical panel, water valve, and fire extinguisher. Map out an exit plan, where to go and how to get there. 

When it comes to flooding, if you have the time, pack what you need and get out of there. The emergency kit has the essentials if you need to get out quickly, but the important thing is to get out first.

Earthquake and tsunami preparedness

Another disaster to prepare for is an earthquake, as Victoria has been overdue for ‘The Big One’ for a while.

As discussed in the above section, it is extremely important to make an emergency kit and an emergency plan. The emergency kit gives you the option to grab the essentials without having to delay your exit in a situation where every second counts. 

If you live on Vancouver Island, the emergency kit and plan discussed above can apply to more than one situation. 

Here are some things to keep in mind regarding earthquakes and tsunamis. For tsunamis, the most important thing is to move to higher ground. Higher ground, as defined by the B.C. government, is at least 20 metres above sea level. Make sure to follow evacuation orders from officials.

Vancouver Island is divided into five tsunami notification zones. Knowing your zone will help when a warning, advisory, or watch is issued for your area. These maps are provided by the B.C government and can be found here.

When it comes to earthquakes, remember to drop, cover, and hold on. Drop to your hands and knees, cover your head and neck (ideally under some furniture or take shelter in a corner of a room), and hold on to whatever shelter you find while still covering your head and neck. 

No matter where you are when an earthquake hits, stop and protect your head.

Be aware of aftershocks as well. When you feel the shaking stop, count to 60 to make sure the shaking stops, and make sure to check for hazards before leaving your shelter.

More general tips to prepare

What this all comes down to is education surrounding climate events. Always ask yourself when preparing for a climate event, do you have a backup? What do you need if you run out of power? Out of water? What if it gets cold out of nowhere? What if it gets hot?

Using the example of the heat dome, a lot of people were not prepared for it. British Columbia is a place where not a lot of people have air conditioners in their homes, especially on Vancouver Island where the climate is a lot more moderate than it would be in the interior. If another heat dome were to happen in the future, what sort of things would you need to prepare for?

Stock up on water and ice. Prepare food that doesn’t need to be cooked with heat and enough to survive for a week. Maybe even prepare leftovers ahead of time, if there is enough time to do so. If you do need to cook something during the heat dome, cook at night when it’s cooler so you don’t heat up the house. Eat cooler food. If you do need to leave your residence for a chore or something similar, do it ahead of time. Or if you do need to go outside, stick to the shade or go to a park. 

It’s also important to note that with climate events, there is the risk that these will become more regular. With something like a climate event, it isn’t enough to think you can simply ride it out. There always has to be a level of preparation. There’s always something more you can do in order to be prepared to make it out of a climate event, and it never hurts to be more prepared. 

For resources to look into and research in planning for your own emergency kits, you can find a guide from the B.C. government here.

While Vancouver Island has earthquakes, the interior of B.C. is more familiar around fires. No matter where you live in the province, it is important to be prepared for whatever risk is local to your region. And with climate change exacerbating these natural events, it’s more important than ever to be prepared ahead of time.