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Community Hazards

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Learn about some of the risks in Halton Region and find out how you can prepare.
 

General precautions 

Being prepared can prevent injury or death during severe weather. Watch the weather and monitor radio stations that broadcast weather bulletins.

  • Know the location of your municipality’s designated evacuation centre.
  • Identify a shelter in advance. Good places to be during severe storms are basements, storm cellars, and fall-out shelters or underneath stairs or sturdy furniture in the centre of the house.
  • Maintain an emergency kit containing food supplies, extra clothing, blankets, a first-aid kit and medications, a battery-powered radio with fresh batteries, a flashlight, lantern, and tools for emergency repair jobs. Check them often and keep them together in your shelter area. Carry a similar emergency kit in your vehicle.
  • Preventative maintenance. Trim dead or rotting branches regularly, and remove dead trees to prevent them from toppling over during a storm.
  • Choose a meeting place to make sure everyone in your family is safe and sound after a severe storm, in case you become separated.
  • Maintain a full gas tank in your car, in case gas stations forced to shut down in the aftermath of a severe storm.
  • Report downed hydro lines and power outages to the proper authorities.

Windstorms 

Windstorms involve high winds and violent gusts but little to no rain.

Before a windstorm

  • Continuously trim dead wood and weak overhanging branches.
  • Secure patio furniture, etc., so these items do not become a hazard.

During a windstorm

  • Stay away from windows.
  • If driving, pull over and wait in your vehicle until the storm passes.
  • If outdoors, get inside quickly, watching for items that could be picked up by the wind.
  • Be prepared for a power failure.

Winter storms 

  • When a winter storm watch or warning is in effect, listen to the radio or television for information or instructions.
  • When a winter storm hits, stay indoors and make sure you have enough heating fuel.
  • During winter storms, icy roads challenge even the most experienced drivers.
  • If you must travel during a snowstorm, do so during the day and let someone know your route and expected arrival time. Where possible, stay on cleared routes. Ensure your Car Survival Kit is stored in your car.
  • Power outages are often caused by winter storms which damage power lines and equipment.
  • During a power outage, you may be left without heating, lighting, water, or phone.
  • You can greatly lessen the impact of a power outage by taking the time to prepare in advance.
  • You and your family should have a Family Emergency Survival Kit (including battery-powered or wind-up radio) and be prepared to cope on your own during a power outage for at least 72 hours.
  • Farmers should take the necessary precautions to safeguard animals and livestock.
  • If you must go outside, dress for the weather.

Recognizing cold-related injuries

  • The risk of cold-related injury varies depending on the temperature, wind speed, length of time outdoors, age, physical conditions, and whether clothing is wet or dry.
  • Frostbite, or the freezing of body tissue exposed to the cold, is a common cold-related injury and has a numbing effect so you may not be aware you are frostbitten.
  • Warning signs include:
    • A stinging or aching feeling, followed by numbness;
    • Skin that feels waxy and cold; and skin that turns red, then gray, white, yellow or blue.

How to treat frostbite

  • Move the person to a warm place and call for professional emergency medical help.
  • Don’t let the person walk if his or her feet are frostbitten.
  • Handle the frostbitten area gently; never rub it. Wait for professional emergency medical help to arrive.
  • Do not try to re-warm the frostbitten area.

How to treat hypothermia

  • Hypothermia occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce it. Heat loss occurs more rapidly when you are wet. Warning signs of hypothermia include increased shivering, slurred speech, impaired judgement, and poor muscle coordination.
  • Gently move the person to a warm place and immediately call for professional emergency medical help.
  • Remove the person’s wet clothing. Slowly warm the person by wrapping them in blankets or putting on dry clothing. If the person is conscious, offer a warm, non- alcoholic drink and avoid caffeine.

Thunderstorms 

Summer thunderstorms are a fairly common occurrence in most of Canada, providing much-needed precipitation for gardens, crops and other purposes. Unfortunately, a small percentage of summer thunderstorms intensify to the extent that they become “severe,” causing damage to property and threatening lives.

Environment Canada will issue a severe thunderstorm or tornado warning if heavy rain, high winds, tornadoes, hail or intense lightning are present or expected. The storm’s expected motion and developments are also provided in the weather warning. If you hear a weather warning and are in the area specified, take appropriate precautions.

During a thunderstorm

  • In heavy rain, be on the lookout for flash floods.
  • When swimming or boating, always head to shore at the first sight of a storm.
  • Remember that damaged and weakened structures, fallen debris, downed electrical wires, and gas leaks are potential dangers after a storm has passed.

Lightning 

If you can hear thunder, you are within striking distance of lightning. Take shelter immediately.

If you are outside

  • If caught in the open, do not lie flat but crouch in the leapfrog position and lower your head; you do not want to be the tallest object in the area.
  • Take shelter in a building or depressed area, such as a dry ditch or a culvert, but never under a tree.
  • Do not ride bicycles, motorcycles or golf carts or use metal shovels or golf clubs as they conduct electricity.
  • If swimming or in a boat, get back to shore immediately.
  • If riding a horse, dismount so as not to be the tallest object and return to the barn/shelter as soon as it is apparent there will be lightning.
  • If you are in a car, stay there but pull away from trees which could fall on you.

If you are inside

  • Stay there but away from windows, doors, fireplaces, radiators, stoves, sinks, bathtubs, appliances, metal pipes, landline telephones (you can use a cell phone) and other materials which could conduct electricity.
  • Unplug radios, televisions and use a battery or crank powered radio instead.
  • Do not go out to rescue the laundry from the clothesline as it conducts electricity.

Tornadoes 

Tornadoes are unmistakable rotating columns of high-velocity wind that bring devastation to anything in their path. Ontario averages 20 tornadoes per year. Most tornadoes occur in June and July although the season extends from April to September. They can occur at any time of the year. They frequently develop in mid- afternoon to early evening.

Environment Canada warns the public about tornadoes but because they are hard to predict and can move at up to 70 km per hour, a tornado can strike without warning. Typically, a tornado is preceded by a severe thunderstorm and is associated with black skies, strong wind and heavy rain or hail. Sometimes the sky will turn an unusual green colour and the wind will sound like a freight train.

When a tornado threatens

  • Take shelter immediately, if available, preferably in the basement or lowest level of a sturdy building.
  • Stay away from windows, doors and exterior walls. Flying glass is extremely dangerous.
  • Don’t waste time opening windows to keep pressure from building up in the house. It’s unlikely to help anyway.
  • Outdoors, with no shelter available, lie flat in a ditch, ravine or other low lying area, and shield your head with your arms.
  • Don’t get caught in a vehicle or mobile home, which the tornado can lift. Take shelter elsewhere or, if none is available, even a ditch offers better protection.
  • Choose a location where your vehicle won’t be hurled or rolled on top of you. More than half of tornado deaths occur in mobile homes. If you live in a mobile home, it is wise to identify a nearby sturdy shelter well in advance, and go to that shelter when a severe storm is approaching.
  • Beware of flying debris. Even small objects such as sticks and straw can become lethal missiles.

Your best shelter

  • In a house, go to the basement and take shelter under a stairway or a sturdy work table in the centre of the house.
  • In a house with no basement, the safest spot is the ground floor in the centre of the house. Small rooms tend to be more structurally sound so seek shelter in a hallway, small room, closet or bathroom (the plumbing may provide some structural stability). Lying in the bathtub with a mattress on top of you may provide good protection.
  • In a vehicle or mobile home, get outside and find other shelter. North American officials still debate whether seeking shelter in a car during a tornado is safe. Some advise, if the tornado is weak, a car can offer protection against flying debris and rollovers if the occupants fasten seat belts and keep their heads down.
  • There is no way of knowing how strong or violent a tornado is without the proper tools, so the safest strategy is to get out of the vehicle. As a last resort, lie in a ditch or culvert but be aware of flooding.
  • Avoid wide-span buildings, such as barns, auditoriums, shopping centres and supermarkets with large roofs.
  • Go to a nearby sturdy shelter, preferably, or to the lower floor, an inside room, restroom or hallway, or get underneath a sturdy piece of furniture.
  • At school, seek shelter in small windowless rooms such as a washroom instead of a gymnasium.
  • Avoid areas near high walls or large chimneys which may collapse.
  • In shopping centres, stay out of aisles and away from exterior walls and windows. Do not go to your parked car.
  • In high-rise buildings, move to lower levels, small interior rooms or stairwells. Stay away from elevators and windows.

Flooding 

  • Floods are one of the most common hazards in the Canada. Flood effects can be local, impacting a neighbourhood or community, or very large, affecting entire river basins and multiple municipalities.
  • However, not all floods are alike. Some floods develop slowly, sometimes over a period of days or weeks. But flash floods can develop quickly, sometimes in just a matter of minutes and without any visible signs of rain. They can occur at any time of the year and are most often caused by heavy rainfall, rapid melting of a thick snow pack, ice jams, or more rarely, an infrastructure failure.
  • Be aware of flood hazards no matter where you live, but especially if you live in a low-lying area, near water or downstream from a dam. Even very small streams, gullies, creeks, culverts, dry streambeds, or low-lying ground that appears harmless in dry weather can flood.
  • It is important to regularly listen to radio or television or check the Web for the latest information related to flooding or potential flooding in your community.

Flood facts:

  • A heavy rainfall can result in flooding, particularly when the ground is still frozen or already saturated from previous storms.
  • Flash flooding – in which warning time is extremely limited – can be caused by severe storms.
  • All rivers experience flooding at one time or another. The potential for flood damage is high where there is development on low-lying, flood-prone lands.

Even if you feel your community has a low risk of flooding, remember that anywhere it rains, it can flood. Just because you haven't experienced a flood in the past, doesn't mean you won't in the future. Flood risk isn't solely based on history; it's based on a number of factors including rainfall, topography, flood-control measures, river-flow and changes due to new construction and development.

To prepare for a flood, you should:

  • Build or purchase an emergency Go Kit and make a family communications plan.
  • Elevate the furnace, water heater and electric panel in your home if you live in an area that is prone to flooding or deemed at high risk.
  • Install weather protection sealant around basement windows and the base of ground-level doors.
  • Ensure downspouts drain a sufficient distance from your home to ensure that water flows away from the building.
  • Consider installing a sump pump and zero reverse flow valves in basement floor drains.
  • Do not store your important documents in the basement. Keep them at a higher level, protected from flood damage.

When a flood is likely in your area

  • Be aware that flash flooding can occur. If there is any possibility of a flash flood, move immediately to higher ground. Do not wait for instructions to move.
  • Be aware of stream, drainage channels, canyons and other areas known to flood suddenly. Flash floods can occur in these areas with or without typical warnings such as rain clouds or heavy rain.

If you must prepare to evacuate

  • Secure your home. If you have time, bring in outdoor furniture. Move essential items to an upper floor.
  • Turn off utilities at the main switches or valves if instructed to do so. Disconnect electrical appliances. Do not touch electrical equipment if you are wet or standing in water.
  • Move furniture, electrical appliances and other belongings to floors above ground level.
  • Remove toxic substances such as pesticides and insecticides from the flood area to prevent pollution.
  • Keep your radio on to find out what areas are affected, what roads are safe, where to go and what to do if the local emergency officials ask you to leave your home.

If you have to leave your home

  • Leave your home when you are advised to do so by local emergency officials.
  • Take your emergency Go Kit with you.
  • Do not walk through moving water. Six inches of moving water can make you fall. If you have to walk in water, walk where the water is not moving. Use a stick to check the firmness of the ground in front of you.
  • Do not drive into flooded areas. If floodwaters rise around your car, abandon the car and move to higher ground if you can do so safely. You and the vehicle can be swept away quickly.
  • Do not camp or park your vehicle along streams, rivers or creeks, particularly during threatening conditions.
  • Make arrangements for your pets.

Basement flooding tips

  • Move pets, as well as furniture, electrical appliances, equipment and other belongings to higher levels.
  • Make sure basement windows are closed.
  • Remove or seal hazardous products like weed killers or insecticides.
  • Remove toilet bowl water and plug basement sewer drains and toilet connection.

Basement flooding guidelines

For further guidelines of what to do if your basement floods:

Your home has been flooded. Here are some things to remember in the days ahead:

  • Use local alerts and warning systems to get information and expert informed advice as soon as available.
  • Stay away from damaged areas unless your assistance has been specifically requested by emergency services.
  • Emergency workers will be assisting people in flooded areas. You can help them by staying off the roads and out of the way.
  • Play it safe. Additional flooding or flash floods can occur.
  • Return home only when authorities indicate it is safe.
  • Roads may still be closed because they have been damaged or are covered by water. Barricades have been placed for your protection. If you come upon a barricade or a flooded road, go another way.
  • If you must walk or drive in areas that have been flooded stay on firm ground. Standing water may be electrically charged from underground or downed power lines.
  • Floodwaters often erode roads and walkways. Roads may have weakened and could collapse under the weight of a car.
  • Stay out of any building if it is surrounded by floodwaters.
  • Use extreme caution when entering buildings; there may be hidden damage, particularly in foundations.

Entering a wet basement could be hazardous! Before you enter your basement, consider the following:

  • Electrical Shock – When your basement is wet, there is a risk of electrical shock.
  • If you are positive that you can safely do so, turn off your home’s power at the main breaker switches.
  • Before restoring power to the home or using electrical appliances that may have been affected by the flood, consider having them inspected by a qualified electrician.
  • Consider having wood, gas and electrical heating systems inspected by a qualified technician before use.
  • Gas leaks –If you smell gas, leave the house right away and then contact your gas company and the fire department. Check to make sure carbon monoxide detectors are in working order.
  • Pollutants – Flood water may be contaminated with sewage. Protect yourself by wearing protective equipment such as gloves, safety eyewear, a face mask and rubber boots, and be sure to frequently wash your hands with soap and water.
  • Chemicals – While cleaning and disinfecting the flooded area continue to wear protective equipment and ventilate the area well.
  • Structural damage – Flood waters can weaken walls or even ceiling structures. If you are concerned or suspect that the structural integrity of your home may be compromised, leave the area and contact a professional.

Repairing a home that has experienced extensive water damage or has been flooded with sewage-contaminated waters may require a professional.

  • If you have property insurance, you should consult with your adjuster before you begin the clean-up.
  • When hiring contractors for clean-up or repair, check references and be sure they are qualified to do the job.
  • Wear protective clothing, such as disposable overalls, protective eyewear, gloves, a face mask and rubber boots.
  • Beware of the electrical system and appliances. Shut off the electrical system, if possible. Provide as much ventilation as you can, by opening windows if the weather permits, and using fans
  • Salvage your belongings. Remove as much as you can out of the flood zone as quickly as possible to help prevent water damage and mould. Some belongings, especially those that are contaminated with sewage, or those that cannot be quickly dried and effectively cleaned, may not be salvageable.
  • Eliminate excess water using a water pump, a wet/dry vacuum, old rags and/or towels.
  • Remove soaked and dirty building materials and debris, including wet insulation, and drywall.
  • Carpets and furniture that can be salvaged may need to be professionally cleaned and dried.
  • Quickly and thoroughly dry and dehumidify the home. Ventilating the area with outdoor air and fans will help. A dehumidifier will work to remove moisture from the home.
  • Clean all surfaces and belonging. Wipe or scrub away dirt and debris using a solution of unscented detergent and water.
  • Disinfect all surfaces and belongings. Thorough cleaning is required before disinfection. Follow the directions on the product label, wear appropriate personal protective equipment and ventilate the area. Do not mix chlorine (bleach) and ammonia-based products.
  • Dispose of non-salvageable items and building materials. Some minor items may be placed out for regular garbage pickup, but a trip or two to the dump may be required.
  • Store all valuable papers that have been damaged in a freezer until they are needed (After your clean-up, consult your lawyer to determine whether flood-damaged documents, or just the information in them, must be retained).
  • Record details of flood damage by photograph or video, if possible.
  • Register the amount of damage to your home with your insurance agent.

Mould may lead to health problems. Get more information on mould.

  • If you are a private well owner and suspect that your well may be contaminated, test the well water before consuming it.
  • All undamaged canned goods must be thoroughly washed and disinfected.
  • Dispose of all medicines, cosmetics and other toiletries that may have been exposed to flood water.
  • Dispose of any of the following food items if they have been exposed to flood water: contents of freezer or refrigerator, including all meats and all fresh fruit and vegetables, all boxed foods, all bottled drinks and products in jars, including home preserves (since the area under the seal cannot be properly disinfected) and cans with large dents or seepage.
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