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Most Canadians aren’t prepared for disasters: survey
TORONTO – As people in eastern and central Canada brace for super storm Sandy to wreak havoc in their regions, a new survey shows that most Canadians aren’t prepared for when a disaster, like Sandy, does happen to strike.
The Canadian Red Cross survey released on Monday shows that two-thirds of Canadians aren’t prepared for dealing with disasters, either because they don’t think a disaster is likely to happen or they haven’t thought about it happening.
They’re also not stocking emergency food kits or storing water in their homes, the survey showed.
"Only 62 per cent of Canadians have enough food and water to last their family 72 hours in the event that they lose power," said John Byrne, director-general of disaster management for the Canadian Red Cross, in a press release.
"This is despite the fact that more than 40 per cent of Canadians have experienced electricity loss for longer than this."
Dr. Robin S. Cox, associate professor and program head in the Disaster and Emergency Management Program at Royal Roads University in Victoria, B.C., says experiences like being involved in situations where prolonged power loss has occurred, may act as a deterrent for individuals and communities who are preparing for emergency situations.
As an example, Cox says if someone has had a more negative experience with not evacuating during an emergency, they may be more likely to do so the next time it’s necessary. It’s called risk perception, meaning the way in which people perceive the severity of a threat.
But there are other barriers and obstacles that are known to exist when it comes to this issue says Cox, and the job of emergency preparedness workers is to anticipate some of them, so they can ensure the safe evacuation of Canadians.
Factors such as the influence of social networks and extended families, access to information, the clarity of messaging from governmental organizations, cultural barriers that can include language divides, and concerns about the efficacy of evacuation options are all challenges that need solutions, so people feel more prepared to act, says Cox.
“What we know from the research, on these and other issues, is that the more established the relationship ahead of time [ahead of disasters] and by that I mean the more outreach and education about whatever hazards, threats exist in an area … the more likely people are to be able to both function effectively in a high stress situation, but also the more likely that those relationships of trust are built,” said Cox.
Dr. Paul Arnold, an emergency physician at Toronto’s University Health Network, has a simple take on the issue: people just need to think ahead of the situation and know what information they ought to pay attention to.
“The real problem is that they haven’t really thought about it or the implications [of the disaster] if they’re asked to leave and how they would manage that,” said Arnold. “Just because everyone has Twitter it doesn’t mean that everyone is following the government’s public health emergency Twitter feed. The government does have it, several levels of government have them but I’m willing to wager that 99 per cent of Canadians never pay attention to that. It only takes a seed group of people to have some knowledge for it to spread through a community in the event of a real emergency.
"Hopefully enough people will know what to do so they can help the others.”