Commentary: Keeping yourself and your family safe in an emergency

Emergency Preparedness Week runs from May 6 to 12.

Ione Christensen

This is a good week to think about preparing for an emergency. There is a very low snowpack and we’ve had dry weather for two months. The forecast now calls for very warm, dry weather until the middle of May.

That means that a large forest fire is the most likely emergency that we should be preparing for in Whitehorse and other Yukon communities.

Do you have an emergency kit packed with everything that you will need for up to 72 hours? An emergency kit should contain a battery or windup radio, first aid kit, flashlight, water, food, pocket knife, cash and other essentials. Check the City of Whitehorse website for a complete list of what you should have or buy a ready-made kit at one of the local stores.

Do you have a family plan to prepare for or react to an emergency? If you have children in school make sure that you know where to pick them up. Have an alternate meeting place for other family members in case you can’t go home.

You may not be able to communicate by phone, so know your plan. Make sure it includes your pets. Ensure that you have cash ready to purchase gas or other supplies, as credit cards may not work.

Make sure that medications, personal papers and passports are easily accessible. Consider the possibility of mobility problems for family members. Save important computer files on a hard drive or on ‘the cloud’. Keep your gas tank full. Be aware of possible destinations near lakes and rivers, where you can plan to stay for a few days, or longer.

Forest fire disasters in Telegraph Creek, Fort McMurray and elsewhere in California and British Columbia over the last three years have prompted our governments to take action on emergency planning.

As a result there will be an emergency preparedness and evacuation exercise in collaboration with the Federal government.

Operation Nanook will take place in late May and the beginning of June. Hopefully that exercise will ensure that emergency plans will be available for all communities in the near future. Ask your MLA and city council to make it a priority.

The local and territorial governments will manage the big picture during an emergency, through the Emergency Measures Organization. (EMO). But you know what you need and where it is.

A battery radio is a must to help keep you informed of what is happening and where you should be going. Your property must be well prepared. Fire fighters will be fighting the big fire and individual homes will be a second priority. If you have done your job, there will not be a problem. Read up on emergency planning and be prepared.

Planning for a forest fire emergency should also include prevention. Being firesmart is the number one method to protect your home from a forest fire.

Remove big trees, shrubs and dry grass that are within 10 metres of your house. Remove flammables from under steps and decks.

Clear debris from your eaves troughs (rain gutters). The big spruce and pine trees may be at the 10 metre safe limit from your home but are they a threat to your neighbour?

If their house burns, yours might go as well. Firesmart information is available through the City of Whitehorse or Yukon Government websites.

Other possible emergencies for most Yukoners are: earthquakes, flooding, serious power outages and extreme cold spells. A wood stove and a small generator could save you and your home during an extended power outage in winter.

We should prepare for all of these emergencies but for most of us, fire is the main concern this week. Your emergency kit and a plan will work equally well for all emergencies.

To learn more about preparing for an emergency, search for “emergency preparedness” on the City of Whitehorse or Yukon government websites. Check the Jasper, Alberta emergency preparedness website as well for an excellent small town plan.

Ione Christensen is a member of Citizens for a Firesmart Whitehorse, a new informal organization that advocates for immediate and sustained actions to reduce the interface fire risk in Whitehorse.

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