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Emergency Matters and Being Prepared

By Dr. Peter W. Kujtan, B.Sc., M.D., Ph.D.

Article printed on page 25 in the October 31, 2012 issue of
The Mississauga News under the feature: Health & Beauty, Medicine Matters.
Portrait of Dr. Peter W. Kujtan, supplied 2005
Dr. Peter W. Kujtan

One of those cottage trivia items in my possession is a 50-page guide, published in 1969 by Emergency Canada, entitled “11 Steps to Survival” which outlines what to do in the case of nuclear attack. The chapter on nuclear fall-out and shelter construction was a source of cottage humor until I realized that the rest of the guide has worthwhile meaning even today.

Would you be prepared if our power, phone, cable, water, gas supplies were suspended due to a storm? Would most have a 10-day supply of non-perishable goods, water and fuel to see them through a disaster? Is first-aid knowledge with a properly equipped kit a priority in your house? How would you communicate with your family, and how would you track the whereabouts of your family members? Are you familiar with setting up a latrine and disposing of waste and garbage? Does anyone even use cash anymore in our magnetic strip crazy existence?

Having an emergency pack always ready with essentials like flashlights, portable radios, batteries, first-aid kits, maps, marking pens, water containers, vital documents, rope, whistle, blankets, etc. seems like an extremist gesture these days. We are very fortunate in having an infrastructure that is able to withstand and provide for victims of minor disasters. Ontario does get a good number of tornadoes, blackouts, floods, but in our minds, it is always on a small comparative scale.

When I get a few days off, I like to head north to enjoy the solitude and peace that a handed-down family hunt camp has to offer. Freak storms play havoc in our neck of the woods, but locals are ready and rarely flinch. Injuries to people are rare, just loss of conveniences like phone and power. So I do what any red-neck would do. I fill the spare tank with gas, the cooler with ice, and head straight for the hunt camp determined to enjoy nature. The hike into the camp is exhilarating and the solitude eerie. No lights, no fridges, no phones and no pagers. It is nature at its pristine best, almost too good to spoil by donning the lumber-jack gear, chainsaw and ATV to rescue the stranded car.

A short “black-out” experience is worth its weight in gold to practice emergency preparedness, especially if it occurs during the warmer months, and you are not one those poor souls dependent on some form of technology for survival. It provides a dry run and reminds us of the value of being ready to survive should a disaster of greater magnitude strikes. I am a tail-end Yuppie that can still vaguely recall the strange cold war “fire drills” that rushed us all into the dungeon located beneath Swansea Public School. Rumor has it that this nuclear fall-out shelter is still gathering cobwebs. I also remember when at the height of the Vietnam War, the air-raid sirens sounded for hours around Toronto. The strange part was that no one understood what the wailing sound was about or what to do. This fortunate short circuit served as a reminder that we actually do have an emergency response network.

Having an emergency plan and reviewing it at a family sit-down is a good idea. Anyone who has been associated with a natural disaster realizes that organized progression ceases with the practice drills. Unforeseen elements always produce an air of seeming chaos. I would encourage you to visit the federal emergency preparedness website at www.ocipep.gc.ca. It could save the lives of the ones you care about the most, someday.

Related resources:

Preparing Makes Sense. Video from FEMA, 4:32 min.

Emergency Preparedness from Canadian Red Cross. Disasters can strike quickly and without warning. If a hazardous material leak required your family to evacuate or a severe winter storm confined your family at home, would you know what to do? An earthquake, flood, tornado, or any other disaster could cut water, electricity, and telephones for hours or days. Could you keep your family warm and fed? Be prepared to take care of yourself and your family for at least 72 hours in a disaster, and 1 to 2 weeks in a health emergency.

Plan & Prepare from American Red Cross.

Hurricane Preparedness - Be Ready from National Weather Service, National Hurricane Center.

Hurricanes from Ready.gov, FEMA. Prepare, Plan, Stay Informed.
Natural Disasters.
Home Fires.
Technological & Accidental Hazards include technological hazards such as nuclear power plant failures and hazardous materials incidents.
Terrorist Hazards.

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