Before an emergency

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Helping others

Although everyone is susceptible to stress during an emergency, some people may have more difficulty coping in an emergency. People who may have trouble include:

  • People that are socially isolated
  • Newcomers to the area
  • People with limited English or French language skills
  • People who have difficulty performing activities of daily living due to physical/emotional illness or disability
  • People who are limited in their capacity to prepare for an emergency
  • People who are limited in their capacity to assist dependants

You can play a role in preparing people in need for an emergency situation.

Look at your neighbourhood, group or church to see who might need help during an emergency and, if you feel capable and willing, offer your assistance.

How you can help:

  • Create a buddy system, a telephone call out tree, or arrange outreach visits.
  • Have the person post their contingency plan in a visible spot like on the fridge or near the telephone.

Questions to ask to help someone make a plan:

  • What would you do if services (i.e. Hydro, Meals on Wheels) were disrupted for a short time?
  • How long do you feel you could manage by yourself?
  • If you have medical equipment in your home that could fail as a result of a power disruption, what would you do? Is there manual back up?
  • If you rely on battery back up, how long will it last?
  • Where would you go if you needed to leave your home? Would you require assistance? Would you be able to rely on family? Have you made arrangements for pets?
  • If you had to leave your home, whom would you tell?
  • If your phone service were interrupted, would there be anyone checking on you?

Seven steps to emergency preparedness

Step 1: Create an Emergency Communications Plan

Choose an out-of-town contact that your family or household will call or e-mail to check in with should an emergency occur. Make sure you choose someone who lives far enough as to not be directly affected by the same event.

Make a list of your designated contact's telephone numbers (home, work, cellular or pager) and e-mail addresses for everyone in the family or household, designated contact, workplace and your children’s school.

Limit telephone use and keep conversations short during an emergency to help free up lines for those that need help.

Step 2: Establish a Meeting Place

Having a predetermined meeting place away from your home will save time and minimize confusion should your home be affected by an emergency, or if your neighbourhood or community is evacuated. You may even want to make arrangements to stay with a family member or friend in case of an emergency. Be sure to include arrangements for any pets in these plans, since pets are not permitted in shelters and some hotels will not accept them.

Step 3: Assemble an Emergency Preparedness Kit

If you are asked to evacuate your home or to temporarily shelter in place inside your home for a period of time, prepare an emergency preparedness kit in an easy-to-carry container such as a duffel bag or small plastic trash can and store it in an easily accessible location, such as a closet shelf on the main floor. Aim to have an emergency preparedness kit that will keep you and your family self-sufficient in your home for at least three days.

Step 4: Learn about your Community Emergency Plans, Arrangements and Authorities

  • Contact your local community offices to learn about their emergency plans. Find out where emergency shelters are located and whether there are designated emergency
  • Keep a list of all emergency and non-emergency numbers, including police, fire and paramedic services, your personal physician and hospitals. To locate the emergency services office closest to you, check the Red Pages in your phone book or call 3-1-1 (TTY 580-2401).
  • If you live in an apartment building or retirement residence, or attend a school or work, these institutions should have an emergency plan. Find out what that plan is, and what your part is in it.

Step 5: Check on the Emergency Plan of Children's School or Day-care Centre

You need to know if your children will be kept at school until you or a designated adult can pick them up, or whether they will be sent home on their own. Be sure that the school has updated information about how to reach parents and responsible caregivers to arrange for pick up. Find out ahead of time what type of authorization the school requires to release a child to someone you trust should you not be able to collect your child yourself.

Step 6: Learn some Basic First Aid Techniques

Knowing how to render first aid and CPR is another crucial preparedness measure. In an emergency, remember that you should always tend to your own well being first. First aid training will help you to help yourself and those around you

Step 7: Know how and when to evacuate if you live in a high-rise building

Know the evacuation plan for your building and what to do in the event of an alarm.

Know the location of each exit stairwell on your floor, and identify them as primary (closest) and secondary exits.

  • Keep the corridors and hallways leading to these exits free and clear of obstruction. Never use the elevator to evacuate a high-rise during an alarm.
  • In case of a power outage, have extra drinking water stored, especially if you live on higher floors.

Emergency planning for rural residents

If you are a rural resident of Ottawa, you could face special challenges in the event of a major emergency.

However, there are some important tips you should keep in mind:

Well Water Contamination

If your well water is contaminated by bacteria or parasites, bring the water to a rapid rolling boil and boil for at least one minute before using it for drinking, making infant formula and juices, cooking, making ice, washing fruits and vegetables, and brushing teeth. Bottled water can be used as an alternative.

Contaminated well water should not to be consumed until it is determined to be potable through laboratory analysis.

Water samples should be taken from the well on a regular basis - at least three times a year and after heavy rains, or after any work is done on the well or plumbing system - to ensure the water is potable.

Power Outage

Turn the thermostat(s) down to minimum and turn off all appliances, electronic equipment and tools to prevent injury, damage to equipment and fire. Power can be restored more easily when the system is not overloaded.

Use a flashlight. If you must use candles, be sure to use proper candleholders. Never leave lit candles unattended.

Generators are an option for backup electricity, however:
  • They should never be used indoors
  • They require frequent maintenance (including frequent oil changes)
  • They must be installed and connected to your main panel (not directly to your wiring system) by a qualified electrician. Get any such installation inspected by the Electrical Safety Authority (613-225-7600).

Be aware that it may take longer to restore power to rural areas than to the urban core.

Emergency Supplies, Food and Water

The City of Ottawa recommends that urban residents store enough emergency supplies, food and water to keep them self-sufficient in their homes for three days. However, since restoration of essential services may take longer in rural communities than in an urban setting - as we saw during the Ice Storm - it is a good idea for rural residents to stockpile enough emergency supplies, food and water to last at least a week.

Know the risks

Find out what natural and technological disasters could happen in your community. Prepare now, and know what to expect during each disaster. Your best protection in any emergency is in knowing what to do.

In Ottawa, it is a good idea to be prepared for the following emergencies:

  • Freezing Rain
  • Earthquake
  • Snowstorm/Blizzard
  • Electrical Emergency
  • Tornado
  • Explosion/Fire
  • Windstorm
  • Urban Flood
  • Landslide
  • Extreme Heat

One of the easiest things you can do is to simply avoid potential emergency situations. Heed weather warnings and avoid driving and other activities in hazardous weather conditions.

Check out the seven steps to emergency preparedness, find out what you can do to help others and find out about emergency communications.

Your personal emergency plan: Before you begin

Before you begin, developing your personal emergency plan, take a few moments to consider the possible emergency situations or potential disasters you could face. These are situations and events that could impact you, your family or your neighbourhood or community.

Talk to your family members to get their views and assistance in building an action plan you and your family can follow to help reduce the possible effects of any emergency or disaster.

You may want to consider helping your neighbours do the same, especially those who are elderly or disabled.

Radio communications

Your local radio or television station will keep you updated in an emergency. Learn about these and other communication systems that help people stay informed.

Emergency Communications

In an emergency situation, tune into your local radio or television station for information. Make sure you have a battery-operated or windup radio to keep updated even if there's no power. The City also has back-up communications systems in place including two-way radios and use of the local ham operators network, a flyer distribution network etc.


The 9-1-1 system is the core of Ottawa's emergency-response network. Call 9-1-1 to report a life-threatening medical emergency, a crime in progress, or a fire. Call 613-236-1222 for serious crimes, administration or community police centres.

Can help find you when you call 9-1-1?

If you have purchased an internet-based telephone service, you should be aware that there are certain technical limitations when calling 9-1-1. Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is a telephone service that connects calls to the Internet as a means of communicating with other phones. This system does not provide a direct link to your local 9-1-1 Centre and does not provide automatic address and telephone number information ensuring help will find you.

If you have a VoIP system and are calling 9-1-1, you should be prepared to provide an accurate location to assist the operator in directing your call to the correct 9-1-1 Centre as quickly as possible.

The traditional 9-1-1 system is based on the use of landlines that directs the emergency call to the correct local 9-1-1 Centre. It also provides automatic address and telephone number information to ensure help will find you, even if you are not able to verbalize your location or nature of the emergency. This is known as Enhanced 9-1-1 (E9-1-1).

When purchasing an internet-based telephone service, be sure to check with your vendor about the limitations of using 9-1-1.