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Television has made Canadians first-hand witnesses to the heartbreak of the last-minute scramble to safety ahead of natural disaster. Viewers have seen the devastation of evacuation in the face of earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tornados and fires.

Although Canadians have opened their hearts and bank accounts to support those enduring destruction and loss, how many Canadians have taken the sad experiences of others to heart as an impetus to improve the safety of their own home and family?

Usually, Canadians think about the security of their real estate only when they are preparing for an extended vacation or when disaster is on the door step. Even the purchase of home and cottage insurance does not trigger creation of an emergency plan, largely because insurance salespeople and brokers place the emphasis on premiums not preparedness.

We have seen how quickly, often without warning, disaster strikes. We've heard reaction to the heart-wrenching dislocation of evacuation. We have observed the despair that results when insurance companies drag-out the claim process or refuse to cover loss. Now, the right question to ask is, "What am I going to learn from watching this misfortune?"

  • You can't stop natural disaster, but you can prepare to protect home and family in the face of evacuation and to mitigate loss.
  • You shouldn't resist an evacuation order, but you can have your own plan in place to make the necessity of abandoning your home or cottage less traumatic.
  • You can't turn insurance companies into the beneficent protectors we'd like them to be, but you can ensure you have the right types of insurance and that you know policy limitations.

Canadians have long relied on governments to protect them and to preserve their standard of living. While you watch the failure and inadequacy of government emergency preparedness plans in other locations, you should ask why your local, provincial and federal governments would be any better at emergency response than others.

Front-line responders make professional commitments to developing plans, executing them and sustaining life-saving operations in even the most difficult conditions. They regularly put their health and their lives on the line to ensure public safety -- your safety and that of your family. Do governments back up their rhetoric with comparable commitment?

The real estate boom that boosted the value of your property also placed a strain on public preparedness for disaster. Developments that encroach on forests are more prone to the devastation of fire. Densely built subdivisions with winding, entwining streets and limited public access can impede emergency response. Car-centric communities are vulnerable to gas shortages. Drinking water and sewage treatment facilities are strained by population increases in many communities. Rising costs continue to force municipalities into cuts and reduced funding that can undermine preparedness.

The distraught people on our television screens can do little to help themselves once disaster strikes. However, if you cast aside the old view of government as all-protecting and take the initiative for your own safety, you'll find there is much you can do to be ready to weather disaster:

Find out about existing preparedness plans

Contact the federal, provincial/territorial and municipal politicians that rule your life and livelihood to find out how they are investing in emergency preparedness in your area. For example, there is a National Earthquake Support Plan that includes British Columbia, where government seismologists "predict that an earthquake of truly catastrophic dimensions will take place" that will "have such a devastating impact on the people of British Columbia that a massive mobilization of assistance from across the nation will be required to assist provincial and local governments in saving lives and protecting property and the environment." The BC government has reportedly prepared and tested its British Columbia Earthquake Response Plan for that purpose. If you own BC real estate, shouldn't you know what to expect?

Search out information and advice on personal action

The federal government's Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada offers self-help advice for families, individuals, businesses, institutions, responders and emergency managers. Other government departments and agencies offer resources as well. For instance, Transport Canada is responsible for co-ordinating transportation resources and Health Canada manages emergency health and social services.

Be in the know

Contact the emergency response organizations that protect your neighbourhood to find out how you can contribute. Major nongovernmental organizations such as the Canadian Red Cross, the St. John Ambulance and the Salvation Army are included in the emergency health and social services aspects of emergency readiness, so pitch in here, too.

Gear up your neighbourhood

May's Emergency Preparedness Week is an annual event designed to build public awareness of various risks, to explain how to plan and to help citizens prepare for any type of emergency. Ensure schools and workplaces have preparedness plans in place, too.

Support Professional Emergency Management

The Canadian Emergency Preparedness Association promotes the profession of emergency management in Ontario.

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