Heat domes, wildfires and flooding: Get prepared now for the next emergency, experts say

Heat domes, wildfires and flooding-Milenio Stadium-Canada
Every home should have an emergency kit stocked with supplies to last at least 72 hours. (Jan Lakes/CBC)

Jackie Kloosterboer has worked with people caught in emergencies for more than two decades, and time and again she’s seen how simple planning could have helped them through the catastrophe.

Kloosterboer, who is the City of Vancouver’s emergency planner, spent her summer working out of Chilliwack with her staff to help people who were forced to flee due to wildfires. A few months later, she was working out of Abbotsford to help those affected by flooding.

“There was the one family that had been evacuated from Merritt this summer and the mom with the two kids went one direction, dad went the other direction and they had a heck of a time trying to find each other,” she said.

She and others say the past six months in B.C. have provided a stark reminder of the importance of having home emergency plans in place when hazards like heat waves, wildfires and flooding occur.

Jackie Kloosterboer-Milenio Stadium-Canada
Jackie Kloosterboer, an emergency planner with the City of Vancouver, is pictured with the city’s downtown skyline in the background on Dec. 10, 2021. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

UBC’s Ryan Reynolds, who studies emergency planning and household preparedness, said the effects of climate change on weather patterns are happening as predicted and now affecting places like British Columbia.

“I don’t want to say I told you so but it’s what a lot of us were thinking in the back of our minds,” he said.

“We knew this was happening and people weren’t listening.”

Last year B.C. Hydro released a report that said 20 per cent of British Columbians feel more prepared for a storm-related power outage after stocking up on household supplies for the pandemic — despite not having an emergency kit or plan.

The report, including a survey conducted by Ipsos Reid, was called Stocked Up but Unprepared: How COVID-19 Preparation has Created a False Sense of Storm Season Security.

Data from the utility said there had been a 117 per cent increase in electricity-damaging storms in the province, from 52 storms in 2014 to an average of 113 in each of the past three years.

It says an average of one million customers are affected by storm-related outages each year.

Kloosterboer says despite years of advocacy to do emergency planning at the household level, only about 20 per cent of homes have plans in place.

She is hopeful that stories from this summer’s heat dome, wildfire evacuations and the thousands of people forced to flee from catastrophic flooding in November will provide the motivation to take action.

“I would hope so,” she said. “I think the people who have been impacted will definitely start preparing for it. They’ve seen what it’s like, they’ve seen how it could be different if they were prepared.”

Reynolds says his studies have shown a psychological effect called the “let down” scenario where people believe that because they weren’t affected by the event, or got through it without having any plans in place, they are prepared enough and don’t need to take additional action.

“I really discourage that just because you were lucky this time, I stress the word lucky in that doesn’t mean you will be lucky next time,” he said.

Both Reynolds and Kloosterboer don’t want people to feel overwhelmed by making emergency plans, but to approach it in small ways like making a list of medication all household members need, or putting a favourite food item like a chocolate bar aside for a grab-and-go kit.

“There’s a lot of little tiny things that individuals could be doing that could make their lives easier in the event of an emergency,” said Reynolds.

The province’s PreparedBC website has detailed information on how to construct emergency kits and come up with safety plans.

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