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Flooding, Wildfires in Kelowna Highlight Need For Emergency Kits

If you had to leave home at a moment’s notice, could you?

Originally published in Metro Vancouver on May 14, 2017. Read online here

Luke Henning, left and Bryce Stirling with the BC Wildfire Service prepare sandbags in Kelowna B.C. on Friday, May 12, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff Bassett

Just as the City of Kelowna issued a boil water advisory, my kids decided they were dying of thirst and needed water immediately. Of course they weren’t dying of thirst, and didn’t need it immediately, but I loaded everyone into the car and drove to Starbucks for bottles of water and lemon loaf.

Crisis averted.

On my way home I got to thinking about what would happen if this had been real emergency. If the terrible flooding that’s hit this city meant I couldn’t get home, or – like many of my fellow residents – had to leave quickly? What would happen if I couldn’t connect with my husband, whose number I still don’t know by heart?

The reality is, every region in B.C. is at risk to a variety of disasters, like earthquakes, floods, landslides, wildfires and extended power outages. All of them can leave residents cut off, or forced to flee. How many of us would be ready to pick up and go at a moment’s notice?

This is exactly what happened to Laura Huntington in 2014 during the Smith Creek forest fire.

“A policeman knocked on our door and ordered me, while pregnant, my toddler, husband, large dog and two ferrets out,” said Huntington, who now lives in Kelowna. “I begged for five minutes to pack, and managed to grab a few things like diapers and dog food.”

Huntington was able to return home four days later, and the first thing she did was pack a duffle bag with emergency clothes, diapers, dog food, Tylenol, and other basics.

“I won’t ever be caught off guard like that again,” she said.

Darba Melenchuk said gave her “very thorough” emergency kits away when she moved to Kelowna from Nanaimo, and away from the threat of earthquakes.

“I even had alerts on my phone when food items expired, then I would go to the store and replace them with the same item,” she said. “And here I am, in Kelowna being told to have an emergency kit.”


Volunteers help out with sandbagging in Kelowna, B.C. on Friday, May 12, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff Bassett

PreparedBC, British Columbia’s one-stop shop for disaster readiness, has a website devoted to helping people plan for emergencies, and recommends having an easy-to-find, and easy-to-transport stash of necessities that could last for at least 72 hours.

It offers useful information like how to stock emergency kits, develop household emergency plans, build sandbag dikes, and even – I’m not kidding – prepare for a zombie apocalypse (or other disease outbreak).

No matter where you live in the province, here are the must-haves for an at-home emergency kit:

  • Enough non-perishable food and bottled water to comfortably support your family for a minimum of three days. You’ll need at least four litres of water per person, per day. Don’t forget to take pets into account.
  • Flashlights and two replacement sets of batteries. Battery-operated candles are also a good option, as regular candles can create a fire hazard.
  • Coleman stove and other camping gear.
  • Portable generators.
  • Warm clothing and blankets.
  • Phone charger and list of important contact info.

Because there’s also a chance you may have to evacuate your house on short notice, PreparedBC recommends creating grab-and-go bags for your home, work and car. It should include:

  • Ready-to-eat food and water
  • Flashlight and batteries
  • Radio and phone charger
  • Seasonal clothing and blanket
  • Pen and notepad
  • A few personal toiletries
  • Medication, if necessary
  • Small first aid kit
  • Cash in small bills and local map
  • Whistle
  • Out-of-area phone contacts
  • Copies of important documents, which you can store on a USB

No matter where you live in B.C., the threat of an emergency or disaster exists. So take a few minutes to put together an emergency preparedness kit. You never know when you may need it.

Other important advice:

– Make a master phone list of emergency contacts and family members, including those who are out of province.

– Agree upon a meeting place in case of an emergency, and have a backup if you can’t meet at home.

– Learn how to shut off your utilities, like your home’s electrical panel, water and gas valves.

– Always keep your vehicle’s gas tank half full in case you’re required to evacuate on short notice.

– Make sure your pets are wearing identification, and don’t forget to plan for their needs when building an emergency kit.

Malcolm Uttley places sandbags along a small canal in Oyama B.C. on Friday, May 12, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff Bassett

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