Ready for the Big One?
by Lisa Seppala, True North Implementation
I’ve been leading a process with the strata where I live to update and improve our emergency response plan. Our tower contains 148 units with a culturally diverse population. It shares a recreation centre with three other towers. The area around us is densifying. If there’s a major emergency event, there will be high demand on first responders and we might not see external help for several hours or days.
Our approach consists of two parts. One, educate the building occupants on personal emergency preparedness, and two, get ready for a building response.
We’ve discovered excellent resources through PreparedBC including: information on home and neighbourhood preparedness; guidelines on what to do if you’re in an apartment or condo; and, preparedness tips for seniors, people with disabilities, and even pets. A city representative has met with our planning committee and provided us with enough materials to give the needed information to each home within our tower. This same person is coming back for a town hall session in the fall so that all residents can have an in-person discussion with her. When we first started digging into the available resources we were pleasantly surprised at the volume of high quality information. Thinking about it though, it makes a lot of sense for our local and provincial governments to support emergency preparedness within communities – the more educated we are within our own buildings, the less need we’ll have for first responders such as fire, ambulance, etc, in the event of a major emergency. Those valuable resources can focus on areas that need critical attention.
We’re creating a response structure for our building and are thinking through several emergency scenarios. We’re forming and training an internal Emergency Response Team to manage the overarching building response and to liaise with external first responders if required. This team has toured the building, been in all the nooks and crannies and seen all the equipment needed to run a 24-story building (there’s a lot!). Ultimately, we’ll create a manual for the general building population and one for the emergency response team with instructions on what to do in each of the scenarios we’ve identified. Some of the more common scenarios we’re planning for are: earthquake, severe weather, extensive power outages, building fires, gas leaks, flooding, and yes, even the occasional elevator entrapment.
It’s a lot of work pulling this together and even though it’s early days, it’s starting to take shape. We’re further ahead than we were two months ago and on track to have our plans in place for the fall. Once this work is done, we’ll enter a regular review cycle where we can assess whether the plans are still meeting our needs or whether they need tweaking.
Keys to success – have a group of interested and engaged team members, create a flexible implementation plan, and, have someone take the lead to pull the disparate pieces together.
Key learnings – there’s a lot of equipment needed to run a large complex, there’s a lot of information available to support the development of a plan, and, individual owners need to take responsibility for their personal preparedness as no amount of preparedness for the building will fully address their individual needs during an emergency event.
All that said, I’m wondering what others are experiencing with their planning. Are you ready? Do you have information to share about the steps you’re going through? Have you any learnings that you think others should know?