This week is Emergency Preparedness Week -- the kind of non-event, event that might mean we’ll see a photo (or two) of a politician at some media event, but most won’t give it a second thought.
At best, it might evoke an image of Sheldon Cooper of Big Bang Theory with his survival backpack and fluorescent arrows painted on the floor. Some of us older folks might evoke the man on a street corner shouting: “Repent the end is near!”
A couple of weeks ago I attended the Symposium on Extreme Weather: Impacts, Challenges and Adaptations, presented by the Canadian Climate Forum in Ottawa. As you would expect from the title, I heard a lot about ice storms, rain storms, floods, fires and much more. It was one long story of suffering and enduring.
The conference had two themes. It examined several recent severe weather events, Calgary flood last year and Toronto’s Christmas Ice storm, for example. Then a discussion ensued on how to apply what’s been learned to adapt to what speakers referred to as a “big changes” in the frequency and severity of major weather events.
It came down to a story of weather causing huge disruptions in people’s lives -- often involving the loss of life and tremendous destruction of property. Most of us have only experienced these events on TV, but that is rapidly changing as more and more communities can attest.
Last Christmas a million people in the Toronto area were without electrical power. Even Hospital generators -- designed to keep the lights on -- couldn’t supply the needed power doctors rely on to operate their life-saving equipment.
A lessor known story is what’s happening away from the cameras right across Canada. All levels of government are scrambling to understand what is happening and what could happen in the near future. They are faced with critical spending decisions involving vast sums of money in order to defend their communities.
Canada has seen tremendous growth in the last 50 years while enjoying a period of relative climatic calm. Our infrastructure -- especially flood control -- was originally built based on an ability to withstand “1-in-a-100” year storms. These original calculations – while they served us well -- are now woefully out of date as anyone not wearing a blindfold can see. The storms are coming more often and more severely, unfortunately (but not unexpectedly).
Last summer Toronto received more than a month’s rain in just a few hours (Calgary experienced a similar deluge). In order to adapt to Climate 2.0 nearly every community in this country needs to have a hard ‘rethink’ about current and future development plans. While this will take some considerable planning and a substantial financial investment, it’s still not enough to protect our communities and loved ones.
Disaster response planning is an increasingly critical issue for governments across the globe. Experts are trying to anticipate everything that needs to be done, be it preparation for severe storms, floods or fires. A testament to the work being done is the relatively small loss of life to date, despite the tremendous damage we’ve all witnessed in recent years.
Of course, all of this severe weather was predicted decades ago when I started working on climate change. What’s new is governments see the impacts and are (belatedly) starting to react/adapt. For many of us, talking about adaptation was secondary to mitigation (i.e. reducing greenhouse gas emissions) as we didn’t want to up-and-abandon hope that timely action could still avert the worst of the climate impacts we knew were coming. Today, we live in a different world -- one much harsher, unfortunately. Despite our best efforts, we missed the mitigation boat.
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has confirmed that not only is the climate changing radically, but if we are to avoid EVEN MORE catastrophic event, the “mitigation train would need to leave the station soon and all of global society have to get on board.”
We can learn to adapt to a harsher climate, but don’t we have a duty and responsibility to do more – to do all we can do NOW to limit future impacts on our children and grandchildren?
In the meantime, do what you can to flood-proof your home and be sure to get a Red Cross survival pack to protect your family, friends and love ones. Who knows...maybe one day you’ll even provide shelter to a climate change-denying neighbor.
John Bennett, National Program Director
Sierra Club Canada Foundation
412-1 Nicholas Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1N 7B7
John on Twitter / Bennett Blog
Emergency Preparedness Week (May 4-10)
Federal Government of Canada has information about Emergency Preparedness Week on their website, including a poster and other useful tools to use to promote this week. They also link each province and territory’s emergency management services:"Emergency Preparedness Week is an annual event that takes place each year during the first full week of May. This national event is coordinated by Public Safety Canada, in close collaboration with the provinces and territories and partners.”
Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services has information about Emergency Preparedness Week on their website:“Emergency Preparedness Week 2014 (May 4-10) is a Canada-wide initiative to increase awareness of individual and family preparedness. Emergency Preparedness Week is fast approaching and planning for your campaigns are likely underway. The provincial theme and focus for this year’s campaign centres on diverse groups and community resiliency with the tagline, “I am ready. We are ready.”
Canadian Red Cross has information promoting Emergency Preparedness Week on their website:“Emergency Preparedness Week is an annual event that takes place each year during the first full week of May. This national event is an opportunity for the Canadian Red Cross to remind families to plan for emergencies. Disasters can strike anywhere at any time, and Canadians should be prepared to care for themselves and their families for at least 72 hours in a disaster, and up to two weeks in a health emergency like a pandemic.”
The Salvation Army, Ontario Great Lakes Division has information promoting Emergency Preparedness Week on their website:“Emergency Preparedness Week is an annual event that takes place each year during the first full week of May. This year’s Emergency Preparedness Week is May 4 to 10, 2014. This national event is coordinated by Public Safety Canada, in close collaboration with the provinces and territories and other partners, including The Salvation Army.”
First Aid For Life has information promoting Emergency Preparedness Week on their website:“Emergency Preparedness Week (EP Week) is an annual event that takes place each year during the first full week of May. This national event is coordinated by Public Safety Canada, in close collaboration with the provinces and territories and partners. By taking an active role in your community, you are helping to build a culture of preparedness in Canada. While governments at all levels are working hard to keep Canada safe, everyone has a role to play in being prepared for an emergency. Building awareness is a great first step. With your help, together we can communicate the importance of emergency preparedness to all Canadians.”
NOTE: I found that local cities across Canada also have a wealth of information promoting Emergency Preparedness Week on their website. For example, the City of Ottawa has information promoting Emergency Preparedness Week on their website:“May 4 – 10, 2014 is Emergency Preparedness Week and the City of Ottawa, along with municipalities, organizations and corporations across the Country are asking you to help us build a more resilient community by taking the time to get you, your family and your neighbourhood ready for emergencies and disasters. This year, the City of Ottawa is focusing on the critical role that partners play in preparing for emergencies and we are encouraging everyone to become a Partner in Preparedness.”