Disaster Strikes

This is a guest post by Robert, who lives in Calgary and worked as a financial adviser before retiring at age 35. He is married, has three kids and has returned to school with the goal of eventually living and working overseas.

As you are probably aware, parts of Calgary, where I live with my family, (as well as other areas in southern Alberta) have been devastated by severe flooding. A few days ago, we were starting to get tired of the rainy weather, but we didn’t see it as a particular problem. Then, the water starting coming down from the mountains, and the Bow and Elbow rivers surged beyond their borders and through some of the nearby communities. My family was lucky and we were essentially unaffected. We left a soccer game early to get home on Thursday night, as they began evacuating the community where my son was playing.

On Friday morning, we went to the store and found that the milk, bread and water shelves were starting to look bare. During the day Friday, the kids stayed home from school and we watched the news reports come in with pictures of the flood waters moving through streets and buildings that we knew. We made a small care package of toiletries and hygiene items to send to the homeless shelter that was displaced. On Saturday, we walked down to a riverside park (keeping well back of the water) to view the extent of the flooding. It was unbelievable to compare the deep, rapid, muddy river with the park it used to be, where we used to take our kids to the playground.

On Sunday, I heard a chilling story. I knew people who had to leave their homes, and others who had family or friends staying with them, while they waited to hear that it was safe to return to their homes. Some were flooded, while others were simply without electricity. But the story that bothered me the most was a family who were told to evacuate. They took 10 minutes to gather just a few things, and in that time the water engulfed their car, trapping them in their home and causing more damage to their car than the value of the things they tried to save.

What would I do? Would I be prepared to leave in under 10 minutes? What could I replace and what is irreplaceable? I don’t have all the answers, but there are a couple things that I’ve resolved to do for next time. We don’t know when this could happen again. As an example, when Calgary experienced flooding in 2005, it was said to be a “once in 50 years” occurrence. That was just eight years ago. Further, we could end up without electricity or stranded for any number of reasons, including an ice storm or lightening strike, tornado or earthquake. (Or zombie apocalypse, if you’re into that kinda thing.) It’s impossible to predict the likelihood, so instead, I plan to be ready.

Off-site backups. My computer hard drive recently died. But with routine backups to an external hard drive, it was a simple matter to restore everything (mainly family photos). I highly recommend this, but it wouldn’t help if there were a flood or fire. I’m looking at cloud-based options, but for now I’ll rotate external hard drives and keep the spare at my in-laws.

72 hour kit. The idea is to have a bag that I can just grab and go. I still have some research to do before putting it together, but I think it will contain: clothing, hygiene, cash, food / snacks, blankets, books and toys. I’ll start my research: http://www.getprepared.gc.ca/index-eng.aspx, http://www.redcross.ca/what-we-do/emergencies-and-disasters-in-canada/for-home-and-family/get-a-kit, http://72hours.org/build_kit.html

3 month food supply. This will be a little trickier. I plan to pay attention to what we eat, so we can store things we like and rotate them into regular usage, to avoid wastage. But I’ll also need to think about how to work in perishables like milk, meat, fruit and vegetables. Also storing water, for cooking and drinking, in case it becomes cut off or contaminated. And doing all this without imposing a financial burden.

Up to now, my emergency plan has consisted of having working debit and credit cards. But in case of a run on the grocery store, that wouldn’t be much help. Do you have an emergency plan in place? Have you ever relied on it?

5 thoughts on “Disaster Strikes”

  1. If the hydro goes out, how will you use your debit and credit cards? I went through this in Toronto almost 10 years ago when the hydro went out across southern Ontario and the northeast US. Oh, well, I’ll just hop into my car and drive to find a functioning cash machine. Oops, first stop, gotta gas up the car. Duh… gas station pumps work on electricity, doors work on electricity, cash registers work on electricity… See what I mean? Luckily, I was in the midst of moving over those few days, I had a stash of cash on me until I transferred my bank accounts to the new town and for buying lunches and reimbursing friends’ gas and I had already filled up my car the day before. Where I was moving to was in the Bruce catchment area so their hydro had only gone out for a few hours and by the time I got there, everything was fine. Meanwhile it was chaos in Toronto and environs for another couple of days.

    Always keep your vehicle(s) gassed up, keep a stash of cash handy, and yes, keep water and food items on hand that preferably don’t need power/water to prepare. A portable camp stove is ideal. I like the kerosene ones, because guess what? Propane tanks aren’t refillable w/o electricity and all the places you’d normally go to will be closed. Make sure flashlights are functioning — and remember that using rechargeable batteries won’t do you much good. People who have freezers full of food who think they’re gonna do just fine might want to rethink that. Keep meds up to date and don’t let them run out. Have a bugout bag ready at home/in your vehicle, and a predetermined meeting spot/check in place set up in case people have to split up. Yes, of all your possessions, for some reason the most important thing the loss of which will haunt you forever are photographs. Keep them safe, digitise them and use Cloud or keep copies somewhere else as you suggest. Good idea to digitise all important bank and legal documents and medical records, passports, etc., while you’re at it. Keep those up to date. Do I do all of this? Mmmm-no, but a lot of it.

  2. Barbara, Thanks for the real-life example and the great suggestions. I remember that my wife was flying from Toronto to California that summer when the power grid failed, and it wreaked havoc with her itinerary, even in California. I guess there are so many ways it affects us, that we don’t realize until it happens.

  3. I think the worst thing for most people is that disasters probably won’t happen when you’re all together. Kids will be at school, parents will be at work or someone will be out somewhere shopping or at a friend’s house. That’s why a pre-determined meeting spot or figuring out a non-digital way to check for messages is critical. Probably best to set up a specific time to leave msgs/check for msgs, too. Cell phones/internet might not work and certainly you likely will not be able to recharge your gadgets.

    Potential for disaster will vary across the country, and most of the time it won’t be that serious, but it’s still worrying when you’re in the midst of even a lengthy power outage and can’t get any information.

    Another thing, when the power went out in Toronto, I think it was CFRB was the only radio station able to continue broadcasting, they had huge batteries with enough juice for… 24 hours? 48 hours? I forget now. But they were a lifeline. How did I find that out when there was no power? Duhhh… my car radio.

  4. I have a panic bag (72 hour kit) ready to go. When I owned a vehicle I never let the tank go below half full. I also have enough money (in cash) to get me to a safe distance (my parent’s place in another city.)

    Of course I don’t have kids so my planning is pretty simple.

  5. The small town that I live in has a river that floods regularly. It’s normal to go have parts of downtown blocked off because there’s water in the streets. And there’s an entire subdivision that gets their basements flooded all the time. While people get upset, I believe it’s seen as fairly routine, those affected just don’t put anything permanent in the basement.

    But what I have seen is that when the flooding takes place, it’s not the millions of dollars of damage. It’s the emotional impact from having your home ripped from you. I spoke to a woman crying on her porch as she was telling me how years ago she couldn’t get out of her house to go to her husbands funeral. Someone eventually came by and picked her up in a boat.

    Another woman had structural foundation issues from water under pressure jetting up from her basement floor and walls. No insurance and no money to repair it, I believe she eventually had to move.

    Foundations can be repaired, it’s this other damage that lasts.

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