This column appeared in the Kelowna Daily Courier on January 12, 2014.
It’s not only boy scouts and girl guides who need to be prepared. Last year’s ice storms, skiers caught in avalanches, hikers encountering wildlife, boaters drowning, and severe weather across North America right now remind us that sometimes our personal health and well-being can be jeopardized by rapidly developing events in our environment. With many of these incidents, especially when they affect an entire community or region, it can be challenging for governments to immediately address everyone’s needs. Our hardworking emergency crews do everything in their power to protect and serve our communities, but personal safety and preparedness is also an individual responsibility.
The lakes, mountains, and backcountry trails that make up our stunning B.C. landscape also invite adventure and recreational activities from visitors and residents alike. Many people are prepared for unintended events, but we can all do more. I know I should have in 1979.
I used to be a mountain climbing instructor, and along with a friend and fellow instructor, I planned to climb the ice-covered Mount Bryce, known as an especially difficult climb in the B.C. Icefields. On the second day of the 7,500 foot north face ascent, a 500 pound limestone boulder was loosened by the sun and came tearing down the mountain, seriously injuring my climbing partner. We were able to secure him to a rock ledge several hundred feet away from where the accident happened, where we waited for rescue. Fortunately we were well prepared with warm clothing, overnight gear, some emergency food and mountaineering equipment. Five days later we were found and rescued by the courageous Banff Park Wardens rescue team, but without our gear or stranded for much longer, the outcome may have been different. The other important thing we did was report our route and how long we expected to be gone, so crews knew when and where to come looking for us when we didn’t return.
Knowing what I know now, I would have done things differently – we should have moved off the north face before the sun could loosen the ice-embedded rocks above – but many don’t get the luxury of second chances. My wish for you in 2014 is to have fun, but learn from the experiences of others and always be prepared. Wear your life jacket instead of leaving it stored in the boat, carry bear spray somewhere readily accessible, stay put if you get lost, take that avalanche hazard refresher course, and plan for the worst case scenario. Thinking ahead and planning for the worst will keep you and your family safe in case it takes emergency response crews longer than anticipated to reach you, in any incident.
Right now in Eastern Canada and across the United States, cities and towns are experiencing extreme weather conditions. This can be dangerous, since emergency crews are not familiar with addressing the problems associated with the unusual temperatures, and such large areas are impacted. Crews are working around the clock, but the situation requires patience and preparedness.
Emergency Management B.C. recommends that you and your family prepare supplies for at least 72 hours in case of an emergency, with up to two litres of water per person per day, nonperishable food, flashlight and batteries, candles, a battery-powered wind-up radio, first aid supplies, extra keys, cash in smaller bills, and special items like prescription medication and infant formula. There are more suggestions and considerations on the Emergency B.C. website, found here http://embc.gov.bc.ca/em/hazard_preparedness/Personal_Safety.html, which is a great resource for putting together your family’s emergency plan.
In addition to having a comprehensive plan, communities need to act together when faced with emergency situations. Check in on neighbours and community members who might not have access to firewood, water and food and might be in need of your help. We all hope for the best, but must remember to prepare for the worst. I hope you and your family had a restful and joyous holiday season and take this opportunity to start the New Year off right, preparing for any emergency situations we might be faced with in the future. When all is said and done, your health and your life may depend on you.