Start planning before an emergency
Emergencies are often unpredictable, but you can still plan for them. You never know when you may need to leave the house in a hurry, whether it’s to evacuate because of a flood or get to the emergency room. You may also need to stay at home for a few hours (or days) without power, water or heat.
We have provided simple ways you can prepare now—so you can take action in the moment—for a tornado, flood, ice storm or other common emergency.
Here’s what we cover in the sections below:
- Know the risks and how to prepare for them
- Make family emergency plans
- Build emergency kits for sheltering-in-place, evacuating or staying in your vehicle
- Stay connected and informed about the weather, emergency updates, your family and insurance
- Plan for children, seniors, those with disabilities and pets
Know the risks and how to prepare for them
York Region works in partnership with its local cities and towns to identify and assess the top hazards that could result in emergencies within our communities.
Emergencies common to York Region with the greatest risk to our communities include floods, hazardous materials incidents, power outages, severe summer storms, tornadoes and winter storms. It is important to know what they are and how to prepare for different situations.
The following includes easy ways to prepare in advance for several emergencies common to York Region with the greatest risk to our communities.
Plan ahead by knowing the best time of day to be physically active and when to reduce or reschedule strenuous outdoor activity. You can do this by checking the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) at Air Quality Ontario or signing up for alerts. Learn more about outdoor air quality at york.ca
If you have heart or lung conditions, talk to your physician about additional ways to protect your health.
Extreme heat can be a serious health threat. High temperatures, high humidity, a lack of shade and minimal air movement – both indoors and outdoors – can put you at risk for heat-related illnesses. These illnesses range from minor heat rashes and muscle cramps to emergencies like heat stroke and heat exhaustion.
During extreme heat, air quality can also be impacted which can increase the risk of impacts to health. While everyone can feel the impacts of extreme heat, some people are at an increased risk due to age, health or personal circumstances. This includes children, seniors and those who have chronic diseases, mental illness, dementia, limited mobility or other medical conditions. People who are living in isolation or are homeless are also at a higher risk. Environment and Climate Change Canada issues Heat Warnings when temperatures are expected to reach a minimum of 31°C or a humidex of 40. York Region Public Health notifies the public and its partners when hot and humid weather could negatively affect health. Check regularly on family, friends and neighbours during hot and humid conditions. Not sure what to look for when it comes to heat-related illness?
Use this tool to help you assess your loved ones and how they are faring in the heat.
Prepare for extreme heat
Take the following measures:
- If you are taking medication, check with your doctor or pharmacist regarding possible side effects during extreme heat
- Check local forecasts for the temperature, humidex, UV index and air quality
- Download the WeatherCAN app to get weather notifications sent straight to your phone
- Weather-strip doors and windows to keep cool air inside
- Cover windows that receive morning or afternoon sun with drapes, shades, awnings or blinds, which can reduce the heat that enters a home
The risk of flooding increases every year with changing rainfall patterns, more extreme storms and rapid snow melt due to climate change.
Historically, flood damage has the highest impact recovery costs based on insurance industry information which is why all levels of government work to reduce flooding impacts. Also, flood-contaminated water can carry bacteria and disease that can impact human health.
By planning ahead and taking sensible precautions, you can do your part to protect your home and health by helping minimize flood damage.
Before the Water Rises - Be Prepared for Flooding
If you are a homeowner, tenant or business owner, please take the following precautions to help prevent or lessen the effects of future floods:
- Ensure sump pump is working; have a battery back-up
- Clear eaves troughs, catch basins, culverts and drainage ditches
- Review your insurance policy to ensure you are adequately covered
- Ensure your insurance coverage includes sewer back-up insurance
- Assemble a 72-Hour Emergency Kit
Build a Rain Garden
Consider building a rain garden planted with a native species that has deep roots so stormwater can be absorbed into the earth slowly. By directing stormwater here from your downspouts, it won’t go directly into the storm sewer and you won’t have to water your garden as often.
Learn more: Toronto and Region Conservation Authority
Hazardous materials incidents
Hazardous materials are substances (liquids, solids and gases) that pose a potential risk to life, health or property if released into the environment. They are part of our everyday lives – everything from chemicals used in industry to household cleaners to the transportation of dangerous goods. These materials can be hazardous when not handled or contained in a safe manner.
Determine how close you are to major highways, rail lines, pipelines or factories that may produce or transport hazardous materials. If you are close, you may need to protect yourself if there was an accident and hazardous materials were released.
During a heightened incident or emergency involving hazardous materials, emergency responders will provide very specific instructions to those nearby to help keep everyone safe. You may be directed to stay put and seal the space you are sheltering in. Consider including duct tape, plastic sheeting and scissors in your emergency preparedness emergency kit so you can seal your space if directed. . If you are using well water, ensure you have an alternative source of potable water (commercially bottled water.)
In the unlikely event that a hazardous materials release occurs, follow these tips to stay safe and secure:
- If you witness (or smell) a hazardous materials incident, call 9-1-1 and report it immediately
- Move as far away as you can from the impacted area, upwind from potential hazardous fumes; do not approach, touch or consume any spilled liquids or contaminated materials, food or water
- Seek immediate medical attention if you are experiencing adverse health symptoms
- If you have come into contact with any hazardous material, get it off your body as soon as possible
- Monitor radio, television and other local news sources for updates and instructions
- Every hazardous material incident is different; follow instructions from first responders or local officials – you may be asked to evacuate the area or shelter in place.
If directed to shelter in place
- If you are in a building, bring your family and pets inside
- Go into a room with the fewest openings (preferably with a water source) to minimize exposure
- Take your phone and charger cables with you and any medications
- Be aware of hazardous smoke, fumes or vapor clouds; to prevent outside air from entering indoors you may be directed to seal the space
- If in a vehicle and unable to seek shelter in a building, keep windows and vents closed and shut off the air conditioner or heater if possible
Seal the space:
If directed follow these steps:
- Close all windows and doors and turn off the furnace and/or air conditioner
- Shut off all vents, fans, close fireplace dampers, gas stoves and other appliances
- Seal all windows, doors and vents with plastic sheeting and duct tape
- Improvise and use what you have on hand to seal gaps (place towel or clothes along the base of the door)
Nuclear power plant emergency
People are exposed to small amounts of radiation every day, both from naturally occurring sources such as elements in the soil and medical sources like x-rays and radiation treatments. During unlikely radiological incidents, such as a reactor accident requiring the release of an airborne cloud of radioactive material, people could potentially be exposed to radiation in various amounts, depending on the circumstances.
In the very unlikely event of a serious accident at the Pickering or Darlington Nuclear Generating Stations, rest assured that a release of radioactive material can generally be controlled. There are many essential safety mechanisms within the facility to allow for the radiation to be contained, usually for up to seven days. This allows emergency responders to take protective measures and determine the best time to release it for minimize exposure, based on the weather and population evacuation timelines.
If an incident were to happen in your community, such as the release of radioactive material, you would be notified about what to do, such as sheltering in place or evacuating. Anyone directly exposed to radioactive material would be contaminated but could lessen their exposure to radioactive materials by removing clothing, taking a warm shower and putting on clean clothes.
Even though a nuclear emergency is unlikely, protect yourself, your family and your property by preparing as follows:
- Build a 72-hour emergency kit, including duct tape, scissors and plastic sheeting
- Make a Family Emergency Plan
- Visit ontario.ca for information about nuclear incidents
- Sign-up for public alerting at ontario.ca/emo
If an accident at a nuclear power plant were to release radiation, the Province of Ontario would send an emergency alert through one or more of these channels: Alert Ready, warning sirens or the telephone alerting system. Emergency bulletins would also be issued through local radio and television stations and social media.
Power outages are very common and occur when there is failure in structures and systems that generate and bring electricity to your home or business. Power interruptions can be caused by:
- A strain on the electrical system (through overuse)
- Failure in the manufacturing plants that generate power (something stops working)
- Damage to the systems that bring power to your home or business (power lines break or towers are damaged)
Before the lights go out – prepare for power outages:
- Use surge protectors to protect valuable electronics like computers and home entertainment systems
- Know how to safely shut-off your electricity, water and gas if directed to do so and if any special tools are needed (see Shut Off Your Utilities below)
- Keep your vehicle with no less than a half-tank of gas at all times because gas stations are electrically operated and won’t work during a power outage
- Have back-up light sources such as flashlights with batteries in all major rooms of your house
- Have a corded telephone that will work without home power (cordless phones will not work without electricity)
- Know how to release your electric garage door opener and how to open the door without electricity (some openers have a battery back-up)
- Have a cooler on-hand that can be filled with ice or freezer blocks for cold food storage, if needed
- If you depend on home oxygen (or other life-sustaining equipment), always have a back-up that does not rely on power (such as battery back-up); contact your service provider for options
- Save your hydro provider’s info, including social media for future reference
|Website||Outage Map||Phone Number|
|Newmarket Tay Power (NT Power)||Map||905-895-2309 (select option 3)|
How to shut off your utilities
- Label electrical box, plus shutoff valves for water and gas
- Practice shutting off water; replace defective parts
- For gas shutoffs, consult your local provider; only turn off gas as directed
- If you have time, unplug appliances and shut off water and electricity – individual breakers first, then main circuit
- If you smell gas, leave; call 9-1-1 or your utility provider
Severe summer storms
Severe summer weather is caused by high- and low-pressure systems coming together and can result in dangerous and damaging storms.
Thunderstorms and lightning
Thunderstorms can be accompanied by hail, lightning, high winds, heavy rain and can also spurn tornadoes. Thunderstorms are usually short and over within an hour, although a series of thunderstorms can last for several hours.
Be prepared for severe thunderstorms and lightning by listening to local news, checking weather reports, the WeatherCAN App and the lightning danger map. Plan to take cover indoors, if needed.
Lightning Myths and Facts
|Myth #1:||Lightning never strikes the same place twice.|
|Fact:||It can strike the same place repeatedly, especially if it is a tall, pointy isolated object like a skyscraper.|
|Myth #2:||Your car’s rubber tires can protect you by insulating you.|
|Fact:||You are protected by your car’s metal sides and roof. Convertibles and motorcycles do not protect you from lightning.|
|Myth #3:||If you touch a lightning victim you’ll be electrocuted|
|Fact:||Human bodies do not store electricity. If you come across a lightning victim, call 9-1-1 and give them first aid or CPR.|
If thunder roars, go indoors!
A tornado is an extremely powerful, dangerous, funnel-shaped wind vortex that comes into contact with the ground and causes damage. Tornado season runs from March to October with peak activity in late June or early July. These dangerous storms leave a path of destruction in their wake and an average tornado can leave a trail of damage six kilometres long.
Signs of a tornado include a dark greenish sky, large hail, often with little rain, visible cloud rotation, a funnel cloud hanging towards the ground, visible debris field where funnel touches the ground and a rumbling or whistling sound.
How to be prepared for a tornado
- Pay attention to local weather stations for weather watches and warnings
- Make a family emergency plan and have practice drills so everyone knows what to do
- Pick a safe place in your home for household members to gather during a tornado, preferably a basement; make sure it is away from external doors, windows and outside facing walls
- If you are in a highrise building, pick a place in a hallway in the centre of the building; talk to your building superintendent or manager and know your building emergency plan
- Have a 72-hour emergency kit that allows your family to be self-sustaining for at least three days
Pro tip: Check your insurance policy to find out what is covered and what is not, such as windblown damage or surface flooding.
Winter storms - at home, on the road, in rural areas
Winter storms are linked to the deaths of more than 100 people every year in Canada. Winter storms include blizzards, ice storms, freezing rain, strong winds, extreme cold and major snowfalls. It’s important to listen to local news and weather reports for information on changing weather conditions.
- Talk with your family about what you would do during a winter weather-related emergency, either at home or in the car
- Make a personalized emergency kit; families should be prepared to be self-sustaining for at least 72 hours (three days)
- Winterize your home by:
- Insulating walls and attics
- Caulking and weather-stripping doors and windows
- Installing storm windows or covering windows with plastic
- Buy rock salt and sand to melt ice and improve traction on sidewalks and driveways
- Have shovels and snow removal equipment handy
- Have an alternative heat source such as a fireplace, wood burning stove or a generator so you can keep one room in your home warm
- Keep fire extinguishers on-hand and make sure your family knows how to use them
- Be prepared for power outages and flooding once snow melts
On the road
- Prepare your vehicle for winter weather
- Keep your gas tank nearly full and always have windshield washer fluid more than half-full
- Winterize your emergency car kit with warm clothing and blankets
- Bring a fully charged cell phone and have a cell phone charger in case you need to call for help
- Always check local weather conditions before heading out on the road
In rural areas
- You may want to string a lifeline between your house and any outbuildings which you may have to visit during a storm
- Install snow fences to reduce drifting snow on roads and paths which could block access to homes, barns and animals’ feed and water
Making family emergency plans
Be prepared in 10 easy steps:
1. Meet with your household to discuss the dangers of possible emergency events in your community
2. Plan how your family would stay in contact if separated by identifying an out-of-town contact such as a relative or family friend
3. Plan where your family could stay if you had to leave your home quickly:
- Can you take your pet there?
- This could be the home of a relative or good friend outside of your area; if the emergency is widespread, you cannot go to your neighbours as they will be facing the same situation you are
4. Know how to turn off:
- Main water shut-off valve, typically located on the foundation wall where the drinking water pipe enters your home
- Gas (Note: if for any reason you do turn off natural gas service to your home, call your local gas utility to restore service; NEVER attempt to restore gas service yourself)
- Electrical power, from the main electrical panel where you would flip the main circuit breakers at the top (usually a pair) to OFF
If there’s been a major disaster, only use your land line phone if it’s absolutely necessary. Emergency responders will need all available land lines. It’s better to use your mobile phone.
5. Post emergency contact numbers in a common household area such as the bulletin board or fridge
6. Take a Basic First Aid and CPR class through St. John Ambulance (York Region branch) or learn CPR through the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada (or an accredited CPR agency in your area)
7. Review property insurance policies to make sure they are current and meet your needs (type of coverage, amount of coverage, hazards covered)
8. Think about the needs of any household members who have disabilities or special health considerations; you may have to take extra steps to ensure their comfort and safety in an emergency
9. Protect family records such as passports and birth certificates by keeping them in a waterproof and fireproof safe, and/or scan and save important documents on a flash drive
10. Make emergency kits ahead of an emergency
Household members with specific needs
During emergencies, your children look to you for your guidance and comfort. The calmer you are, the calmer they will be. Here are a few tips for parents:
- Talk with your child about emergencies common to your community
- Have your child help you put together your family emergency plan, your 72-hour emergency kit and go-bag (include items for babies and toddlers)
- During and after the emergency, talk about what is happening in a way they will understand; explain the problem and what is being done to correct it
- Do not dismiss their fears or anxieties; let children know they can ask questions
- Listen to what they have to say; be patient with them
- Allow them to express their feelings; encourage them to draw a picture
- Monitor what they watch on TV and the internet; news coverage can have distressing images and information
An emergency situation or an evacuation can be a frightening and confusing time. It is important that seniors be educated about the potential for emergencies, the steps to take to be prepared and the programs and services available to help get them through the emergency and return to their regular routine.
Seniors that live on their own need to have supplies in a 72-hour emergency kit in case they need to shelter-in-place. In case they need to evacuate, they should have the following items packed in a go-bag in advance:
- Assistive devices such as canes, walkers, hearing aids and breathing apparatus
- Prescription eyeglasses and footwear
- Extra dentures and cleanser
- Extra medication, supplements and a list of their prescriptions
- Personal identification and list of numbers and names for doctor(s), case worker(s), senior’s group contact person
York Region provides free Personal Medical Information Kits to help seniors manage their health information.
Seniors with disabilities
Some seniors have disabilities that should be considered when planning for emergencies. The section below and this online guide provide emergency preparedness information specific to persons with disabilities.
Persons will disabilities
Emergency preparedness guide
This online guide provides emergency preparedness information specific to persons with disabilities.
Text with 9-1-1
YRP offers a Text with 9-1-1 service so citizens who are deaf, hard of hearing or speech impaired (DHHSI) can directly communicate with a 9-1-1 call taker. Registration is required. Once registered, users can simply dial 9-1-1 and a text session will be initiated by the York Regional Police Communications Centre.
The family pet is an important member of your household and should be included in your emergency plan. It is also important to add pet supplies to your go-bag or make a separate pet kit in case you need to evacuate.
Pre-pack these basics and refer to this comprehensive checklist for more information:
- Copies of important pet records such as rabies shots
- Small amount of any prescription medication
- Leash, blanket and toys
- Small amount of food, water bottle and bowl
If you are not able to take your pet
Determine who can look after your pet if you need to evacuate to a place that does not accept pets.
Print and complete this pet record before an emergency happens. If you are unable to take your pet with you during an emergency evacuation, tape this record inside your window. It provides emergency responders with your contact information and details about your pet.
Build a kit to shelter at home, evacuate or stay in your vehicle
Being prepared is easier than you may think and doesn’t have to cost a lot. Whether you need to stay at home during a power outage, evacuate your home because of a flood or need to stay in your vehicle due to a winter storm, we have you covered. The resources below can help you pull together what you may need during an emergency situation.
Shelter at home: 72-hour kit or "stay bin"
A 72-hour kit or “stay bin” is a three-day stash of essentials in case you need to shelter at home without power, water or heat. This could happen if there was a power outage debris or ice build-up on roads or another emergency.
It’s important for all households to have a kit, as some emergency situations leave families without electricity or clean water in their homes. Stores, businesses and schools may also be closed. A 72-hour kit could help your family be self-sufficient during an emergency by providing enough clean water and food to eat. This short video highlights the top five items you need to get your kit started.
Your household can build a comprehensive kit together in four easy steps:
- Choose a backpack, bin or box to keep most of the items together
- Decide what everyone (including infants, seniors and pets) would need if you could not leave your home for three days; use this checklist to get the conversation started
- Make sure there is enough of each item (water and food), depending on how many people are in your household
- Place the kit somewhere everyone can access and make sure everyone knows where; near the front door beside your go-bag is ideal
Evacuation instructions often come with little warning, so it is important to include plans for evacuation as part of a family, business and neighbourhood emergency preparedness plan.
You may have to leave your home quickly due to flooding or tornado damage. By assembling your go-bag before an emergency happens, you can grab the bag with essential items already packed and not have to look for items in a hurry.
When assembling your go-bag, use a large duffel bag or knapsack to pack the comforts of home such as your own clothes, medicine and personal items. Depending on your family and how many members you have (including pets) you may need different items and amounts for your go-bag.
This checklist will help you get started.
Stay in your vehicle: Emergency car kit
If you drive, be sure to carry an emergency car kit in your trunk in case you need to stay in your vehicle due to a winter storm, flood or other situation.
Here’s a checklist if you wish to build your own. You can also buy roadside emergency kits from retail stores with an automotive section, automobile associations and online.
Stay informed and connected
Nobody likes to be the last to know, especially when a severe weather event or emergency is about to happen. In addition to listening to local news channels on a daily basis, stay informed and:
- Read Environment Canada weather alerts
- Watch the Weather Network reports
- Monitor York Region’s Twitter channel for significant weather event alerts for Regional roads
- Check for flood advisories from your local conservation authority
Also, know the difference between a weather watch and a warning:
Watch vs Warning
Conditions are favourable for tornado development – have a plan!
Tornado development is likely or about to happen – take action!
In addition to your family, your neighbourhood networks are important and may be a key source of support. These include connections you already have, such as your sports teams, spiritual groups and nearby friends.
Ahead of an emergency, determine who you would need to connect with and add a printed a list of their phone numbers to your go-bag and 72-hour emergency kit. It’s a good way to ensure you have their numbers in case your mobile phone happens to lose power during a power outage.
Know your insurance coverage
Damage from most storms, including hurricanes, tornadoes, wind and hail, is generally covered by insurance. Also, water damage caused by water coming through storm damaged roofs and windows, broken pipes or overflowing appliances is usually covered.
Other water damage such as sewer backup may, or may not, be covered.
Insurance often covers more than damage to your home and contents. Additional living expenses are an example. Often insurance will cover the increase in living expenses, including moving expenses, if your home is unfit to live in or you have to move out while repairs are being made.
If a generator is hardwired into your electrical panel, notify your insurance representative and ensure the work was done by a qualified professional.
Be prepared. Protect your financial assets. Discuss your insurance needs with an agent, broker or insurance representative.