Municipal Services

During an Emergency

General Situations (when no other safety command has been given):

  • Use only 911 to call for aid from the fire department, police, first responders, or ambulance.
  • Stay calm.
  • Listen to your radio or television for news and instructions.
  • If the disaster occurs near you, check for injuries - yourself and others (tend to your own well-being first). Give first aid and get help for anyone seriously injured.
  • If the emergency occurs near your home while you are there, check for damage using a flashlight. Do not light matches or candles or turn on electrical switches. Check for fires, fire hazards and other household hazards.
  • Sniff for gas leaks, starting at the water heater or furnace. If you smell gas or suspect a leak, turn off the main gas valve, open windows and get everyone outside quickly.
  • Shut off any other damaged utilities. Notify the utility company of the problem.
  • Confine or secure your pets.
  • Call your family contact. Don't use the telephone unless it is absolutely necessary. Emergency crews will need all available lines.
  • Check on your neighbours, especially those who are elderly or disabled.

Some DO's when assisting an injured person:

  • Survey the scene to make sure the scene is safe for you and others.
  • Check the victim for responsiveness. If the person does not respond, call for professional emergency medical assistance (Call 9-1-1).
  • Check and care for life-threatening problems; check the person's airway, breathing and circulation, attend to severe bleeding and shock.
  • When appropriate, check and care for additional problems such as burns and injuries to muscles, bones and joints.
  • Keep monitoring the person's condition for life-threatening problems while waiting for medical assistance to arrive.
  • Help the person rest in the most comfortable position and provide reassurance.

Some DON'T's when assisting an injured person:

  • Move an injured person without rendering first aid unless the casualty is in immediate danger.
  • Smoke or strike matches in case there is a gas leak.
  • Crawl over debris or disturb parts of the damaged structure unless you are compelled to do so by circumstances.
  • Pull timber out of the wreckage indiscriminately as you may cause further collapse.
  • Touch loose electrical wiring.

Steps to Safely Taking Shelter - Shelter-In-Place Command

If you are advised by the phone fan out or local officials to "shelter-in-place", you must remain inside your home or office and protect yourself there. The following steps will help maximize your protection:

  • Follow your Family Plan.
  • Close and lock all windows and exterior doors.
  • Turn off all fans, heating and air conditioning systems.
  • Close the fireplace damper.
  • Get your emergency supplies kit and make sure the radio is working.
  • Go to an interior room that's above ground level (if possible one without windows). In the case of a chemical threat, an aboveground location is preferable because some chemicals are heavier than air, and may seep into basements even if the windows are closed.
  • Using duct or other wide tape, seals all cracks around the door and any vents into the room.
  • Continue to monitor your radio or television until you are told all is safe or advised to evacuate. Local officials may later call for the evacuation of specific areas in your community that are at greatest risk. Responders will advise when it is safe to leave the premises.
  • If you are taking shelter with another family (your prearranged buddy family), be sure to leave an obvious note on the door of your own home as to where you are. Your block captain should be notified that you are with your buddy family.

Steps to Safely Evacuating

If the emergency is serious enough, you may be asked to leave your home and go to a nearby evacuation centre (like a school gym, a community hall, or neighbouring community). If local authorities ask you to leave your home, they have a good reason to make this request, and you should heed their advice immediately. Listen to your radio or television and follow the instructions of local emergency officials, keeping these simple tips in mind.

  • Follow your Family Plan.
  • Leave immediately, if instructed to do so.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants and sturdy shoes so you can be protected as much as possible. Wear clothes and shoes appropriate to conditions.
  • Take your emergency survival supplies kit.
  • Lock your home.
  • Take a cellular telephone if you have one, but do not tie up transmission lines needlessly.
  • Use travel routes specified by local authorities. Don't use shortcuts because certain areas may be impassable or dangerous. Stay away from downed power lines.
  • If you are to go to an evacuation centre, sign up with the registration desk so you can be contacted or reunited with your family and loved ones.
  • Do not go elsewhere and fail to show up at the registration centre, as valuable time and effort may be spent trying to locate you to see that you are accounted for.
  • When you call or e-mail your family contact (identified in your personal emergency plan) alert them to any separated family members.
  • Leave a note telling others that you have left for the reception area. This will be useful to response teams checking to see that all families have vacated the emergency area.
  • Listen to local or provincial/territorial authorities for the most accurate information about an event in your area.
  • Plan to take your pets with you; do not leave them behind. Because pets are not permitted in public shelters, follow your plan to go to a relative or friend's home, or find a "pet-friendly" hotel.
  • If instructed to do so, shut off water and electricity before leaving. Leave natural gas service 'on' unless local officials advise you otherwise because you might need to contact your utility company to restore gas service/reconnect appliances in your home once it's been turned off and in a disaster situation, it could take weeks for a professional to respond.
  • If you have to evacuate your home for a prolonged period during a winter power failure, (if you have time) drain the water from the plumbing system. Starting at the top of the house, open all taps, flush toilets several times and open the drain valve in the basement. Drain your hot water tank by attaching a hose to the tank drain valve and running it to the basement floor drain. (If you drain a gas-fired water tank, the pilot light should be turned off -- the local gas supplier should be called to re-light it!). Unhook washing-machine hoses and drain.

Winter storms -- freezing rain, heavy snow, blowing snow and blizzards

Blizzards come in on a wave of cold arctic air, bringing snow, bitter cold, high winds and poor visibility in blowing snow. While these conditions must last for at least six hours to be designated a blizzard, they may last for several days. Although snowfall may not be heavy, the poor visibility, low temperatures and high winds constitute a significant hazard.

Freezing rain occurs when an upper air layer has an above-freezing temperature while the temperature at the surface is below freezing. The snow that falls melts in the warmer layer; as a result, it is rain -- not snow -- that lands on the surface. But since the temperature is below 0°C, raindrops freeze on contact and turn into a smooth layer of ice spreading on the ground or any other object like trees or power lines. More slippery than snow, freezing rain is tough and clings to everything it touches. A little of it is dangerous, a lot can be catastrophic.

In Canada, blizzards are most common in the Prairies and the eastern Arctic. Heavy snowfalls are most common in British Columbia, areas around the Great Lakes, southern and eastern Quebec and the Atlantic provinces. Freezing rain can occur pretty much anywhere in the country but is particularly common from Ontario to Newfoundland.

On average, the storms and cold of winter kill more than 100 people every year. That is more than the total number of people killed by hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, lightning and extreme heat.

  • If you live in a community located in one of the areas where blizzards or heavy snows are frequent, you may want to consider stocking up on heating fuel and ready-to-eat food, as well as battery-powered flashlights and radios -- and extra batteries.
  • When freezing rain, heavy snow, blowing snow or a blizzard is forecast, leave your radio on to stay informed of the situation and hear updated forecasts.
  • If a blizzard or heavy blowing snow is forecast and if you are on a farm with livestock, bring the animals into the barn. Make sure they have plenty of water and food. You may also want to string a lifeline between your house and any outbuildings to which you may have to go during the storm.
  • When a winter storm hits, stay indoors. If you must go to the outbuildings, dress for the weather. Outer clothing should be tightly woven and water-repellent. The jacket should have a hood. Wear mittens -- they are warmer than gloves -- and a hat, as much body heat is lost through the head.
  • In wide-open areas, visibility can be virtually zero during heavy blowing snow or a blizzard. You may easily lose your way. If a blizzard strikes, do not try to walk to another building unless there is a rope to guide you or something you can follow.
  • Ice from freezing rain accumulates on branches, power lines and buildings. If you must go outside when a significant accumulation of ice has already occurred, pay attention to branches or wires that could break, due to the weight of the ice, and fall on you. Ice sheets could also do the same. Above all, do not touch power lines: a hanging power line could be charged (live) and you would run the risk of electrocution. Remember also that ice, branches or power lines can continue to break and fall for several hours after the end of the precipitation, so be vigilant.
  • If the power has been off for several hours, check the food in the refrigerator and freezer in case it has spoiled.

During a Winter Power Failure

  • Check whether the power failure is limited to your home. If your neighbours' power is still on, check your own circuit-breaker panel or fuse box. If the problem is not a breaker or a fuse, check the service wires leading to the house. If they are obviously damaged or on the ground, stay well back and notify your electric supply authority (keep the number along with other emergency numbers near your telephone). If your neighbours' power is also out, notify your electric supply authority.
  • Use proper candleholders. Never leave lit candles unattended.
  • Don't use charcoal or gas barbecues, camping heating equipment or home generators indoors. They give off carbon monoxide. Because you can't smell or see it, carbon monoxide can cause health problems and even kill you before you know it's there.
  • Keep an emergency survival kit -- containing provisions for at least three days -- stored in a handy place.
  • You should also prepare a portable emergency survival kit in the event that you have to evacuate your home in a power failure.
  • Leave one light switch on, so you know when power is restored.
  • Don't open your freezer or fridge unless it is absolutely necessary. A full freezer will keep food frozen for 24 to 36 hours if the door remains closed.
  • Use you're battery-powered, or car radio for local information.
  • Turn off all tools, appliances and electronic equipment -- and turn the thermostat(s) for the home heating system down to minimum -- for the following reasons:
    • Tools and appliances left on will start up automatically upon restoration of service; turning them off will prevent injury, damage or fire.
    • If a power surge follows start-up, it could damage sensitive electronic equipment such as computers, microwaves and VCRs. (Protecting these appliances with a surge-proof power bar is a smart and inexpensive precaution.)
    • Power can be restored more easily when there is not a heavy load on the electrical system.
  • Heating: Most Canadian home-heating systems are dependent upon electric power. Power supply interruptions can last from a few hours to several days and are often caused by freezing rain, sleet storms and/or high winds which damage power lines and equipment. An extended power failure during winter months, and subsequent loss of heating, can result in cold, damp homes, severe living conditions and damage to walls, floors and plumbing. Following these simple suggestions can reduce the harmful effects of power and heating failure in subzero weather.
    • Remember that even in very cold weather, a house with closed doors and windows will not become too cold for comfort for several hours.
    • But, if you have a backup heating unit, turn it on before the house gets too cold. If the unit must be vented to the same chimney flue as the furnace, switch the furnace off before disconnecting the furnace flue.
    • You can install a non-electric standby stove or heater. Choose heating units that are not dependent on an electric motor, electric fan or some other electrical device to function. It is also important to adequately vent the stove or heater with the type of chimney flue specified for it. Never connect two heating units to the same chimney flue at the same time. If it is necessary to vent the standby heater to the existing chimney flue used by the furnace, first disconnect the furnace from it. Use only fuel-burning heaters certified by the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) or Canadian Gas Association.
    • If the standby heating unit will use the normal house oil or gas supply, have it connected with shutoff valves by a competent technician.
    • If you have a wood-burning fireplace, clean the flue every fall in preparation for its use for home heating (i.e. sustained use at high temperatures). The creosote in a flue can be ignited by sustained high temperatures and develop into a chimney fire.
    • If you have a fireplace, keep a good supply of fuel on hand.
    • Before considering the use of an emergency generator during a power failure, check with furnace, appliance and lighting fixture dealers or manufacturers regarding power requirements and proper operating procedures.
      • Home generators are handy for backup electricity in case of an outage, but there are hazards to keep in mind. Serious accidents can result when a home generator is connected to an existing electrical circuit. If the electricity produced by the home generator follows the electrical lines back to the transformer, and the current is transformed to a higher voltage, the lives of any utility employees working on the lines nearby are endangered. Anyone touching equipment powered by the generator is also in danger. Also, when the main electric power comes back on, a generator connected to the existing electrical circuit will result in an explosion and fire. Direct installation of a generator to an existing electrical system should only be done by a qualified technician and approved by your electric supply authority.
      • Follow the manufacturer's instructions.
      • Always ensure that the generator operates outdoors in well-ventilated conditions, well away from doors or windows, to prevent exhaust gases from entering the house.
      • Connect lights and appliances directly to the generator. If extension cords must be used, ensure they are properly rated, CSA-approved cords.
  • Your Home - if you have to evacuate during winter power failure. Low temperatures can damage a house, but the major threat is to the plumbing system. If a standby heating system is used, check to see that no part of the plumbing system can freeze. If the house must be evacuated, protect it by taking the following precautions:
    • Turn off the main breaker or switch of the circuit-breaker panel or power-supply box.
    • Turn off the water main where it enters the house. Protect the valve, inlet pipe and meter or pump with blankets or insulation material.
    • Drain the water from your plumbing system. Starting at the top of the house, open all taps and flush toilets several times. Go to the basement and open the drain valve. Drain your hot water tank by attaching a hose to the tank drain valve and running it to the basement floor drain. (If you drain a gas-fired water tank, the pilot light should be turned out -- and the local gas supplier should be called to re-light it!)
    • Unhook washing-machine hoses and drain.
    • Do not worry about small amounts of water trapped in horizontal pipes. Add a small amount of glycol or antifreeze to water left in the toilet bowl, the sink and bathtub traps.
    • If your house is protected from groundwater by a sump pump, clear valuables from the basement floor in case of flooding.
    • Listen to a battery-operated or car radio for more detailed local advice and instructions.
  • After the power returns:
    • If the main electric switch was turned off, check to ensure appliances, electric heaters, TVs, microwave ovens, computers, etc. is unplugged to prevent damage from a power surge when the power is restored.
    • Do not enter a flooded basement unless you are sure the power is disconnected.
    • Do not use flooded appliances, electrical outlets, switch boxes or fuse-breaker panels until they have been checked and cleaned by a qualified technician.
    • Replace the furnace flue (if removed) and turn off the fuel to the standby heating unit.
    • Switch on the main electric supply.
    • Give the electrical system a chance to stabilize before reconnecting tools and appliances. Turn the heating system thermostats up first, followed in a couple of minutes by reconnection of the fridge and freezer. Wait 10 to 15 minutes before reconnecting all other tools and appliances.
    • Close the drain valve in the basement.
    • Turn on the water supply. Close lowest valves/taps first and allow air to escape from upper taps.
    • Make sure that the hot water heater is filled before turning on its power supply.
    • Rinse out dishwasher and washing machine if necessary.
    • Warm house slightly above normal temperature for a few hours to allow it to dry thoroughly.
    • Check food supplies in refrigerators, freezers and cupboards for signs of spoilage. If a freezer door has been kept closed, food should stay frozen 24 to 36 hours, depending on the temperature. When food begins to defrost (usually after two days), it should be cooked; otherwise it should be destroyed in accordance with instructions from your local public health authorities.
    • As a general precaution, keep a bag of ice cubes in the freezer. If you return home after a period of absence and the ice has melted and refrozen, there is a good chance that the food is spoiled.
    • Restock your emergency survival kit so the supplies will be there when needed again.
  • Downed power lines. Call your electric supply authority with the exact location of the downed line. Keep back a minimum of 10 meters (33 feet) from wires or anything in contact with them and warn others of the danger. Always assume that the lines are live. It is difficult to distinguish between power lines and other utility lines (for example, telephone or cable lines) and they also carry sufficient power to cause harm. Therefore, treat all lines as a danger.

Information for these pages was taken from the Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada web site with permission.