YARMOUTH – Be prepared. Stay informed. This best sums up what people should do in advance of a major storm, say emergency management officials in the tri-counties.
Forty years after the Groundhog Day storm, a good deal has changed.
“Notification is certainly a lot better today than it was in those days,” says Harold Richardson, Yarmouth EMO coordinator. “I would say Environment Canada has made a lot of progress in weather forecasting and (providing) better information.”
Janine Doucette, EMO coordinator for the Municipality of Argyle, offers this advice: “I think the biggest thing we can do to help people is to get them to learn how to help themselves, because when something like Groundhog Day happens, a lot of times people can’t get to you within the first 72 hours. Trees are down, power lines are down.”
Nova Scotia’s Emergency Management Office says people should make sure they have enough food and supplies to be self-sufficient for at least three days in an emergency. Don LeBlanc, coordinator for Digby regional EMO, places particular emphasis on the words “at least,” saying people should be prepared to make it on their own even longer.
“When people watch some of the Hollywood movies on TV, they might want to think that local governments have big stockpiles of resources or people ready to come rolling through to them, but that’s just not the case,“ LeBlanc says.
A growing concern for EMO people is the number of seniors who might be living on their own. LeBlanc encourages church groups or social groups to check on people.
It’s a point also raised by Jim Newell, EMO coordinator for Barrington and Clark’s Harbour, who says neighbours are encouraged to help neighbours. Newell, who remembers Groundhog Day 1976 very well, says there is more emphasis these days on emergency preparedness and more people do follow weather forecasts. One only has to go look at a grocery store parking lot a day or two before an anticipated storm to see that people take these things seriously, he says.
Social media has also given EMO a way to reach people with storm-related information.
Doucette notes that EMO is not a first responder, unlike firefighters, police and paramedics. “They go out and, God help them, do what they do best,” she says. “We’re here to support them.”
Still, EMO officials have to be prepared, even though in the end they don’t have the ultimate control over the situation. Despite improvements in weather forecasting and storm tracking and emergency preparedness, Richardson says, “Only Mother Nature knows what she’s going to do.”
FYI: Comfort centres
“Notification is most important,” says EMO coordinator Janine Doucette. “If it looks like we’re going to get hit, we will start to say ‘okay, we might need some comfort centres.’” She notes that comfort centres are different from evacuation centres. A comfort centre is where people can go during a power outage to get a meal, maybe charge their cellphone, but it’s not set up for them to spend the night.
Emergency kits must haves:
When there’s a possibility of a major storm, EMO says to have an emergency kit that will get you through at least 72 hours. Here’s things to include:
• at least 6 litres of water per person (2 litres per day)
• food that won't spoil, like canned and dry foods
• manual can opener
• first-aid supplies
• a list of your prescription medicines with their prescription number and purpose and at least a three-day supply of your prescription medicines
• pet care
• wind-up or battery-powered flashlight
• wind-up or battery-powered radio
• extra keys for your house and car
• money in small bills
• copies of important papers like your driver's licence, birth certificate, and insurance policies
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Janine Doucette, EMO coordinator for the Municipality of Argyle, and Harold Richardson, EMO coordinator for Yarmouth (town and municipality), in the Yarmouth emergency operations centre.
©ERIC BOURQUE PHOTO