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Apart from the issues associated with a big snowfall, cold weather and severe winds can also have an impact on our lives. The most common is downed power and telephone lines. Less common are problems with water and sewer lines that are stressed by severe weather conditions but these systems could be compromised, so you need to have a plan. Here's some advice from our staff to be prepared and to keep your family safe.
Is Your Home Winterized?
Most people spend more time hanging their Christmas lights than they do 'winterizing' their homes. We take the car in for snow tires and a winter tune-up, but our house needs to have a bit of attention to minimize the impact of cold and snow. Here are a few things that you should attend to:
- Remove all garden hoses and drain exterior hose bibs;
- Enclose and insulate all water connections that cannot be drained;
- Cover crawl space vents with insulation;
- Clean fireplace chimneys, especially if you are intending to use the fireplace over the winter;
- Replace all the batteries in smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors;
- Have a shovel easily accessible for clearing the driveway and the sidewalk in front of your home;
- Remove temporary structures. Heavy snow loads may cause them to collapse.
The above tips are provided by the District's home inspection team members.top
What Will You Do If The Power Goes Off?
It is a reality that there are more Fire and Ambulance Emergencies as a result of how citizens react to a power failure than from the actual cause of the outage. The two most common things that occur during a power outage are fires from candles, and fires and asphyxiation from fuel powered generators and stoves that are not properly ventilated. Being properly prepared for a severe weather incident can minimize the dangers to your family.top
You Need a Safe Source and a Radio
When many of us were growing up a box of candles was a key part of our emergency kit at home. In addition, there were oil fuel lanterns and other fuel powered devices that were often part of our camping gear. Today, there are many alternatives that are far safer and should form the cornerstone of your emergency kit, such as windup radios and flashlights.
If you are going to use candles, they should be attended to at all times and placed in areas where they will not be knocked over or come into contact with other combustible objects. Candles should not be used in bedrooms or other areas where the people tending them might fall asleep. A safer alternative is a battery powered device or a device that uses a windup system to recharge the internal battery. There are windup devices available that combine flashlights with radios and some even have cellular phone recharging ports. These devices eliminate a reliance on batteries and combustible fuels.
Have flashlights located throughout your home in easy to find places, and replacement batteries stored in a central, easily accessible, location. At 11:00 pm on a winter's night it's not easy to dig through a closet to find the flashlight, or to locate batteries in a crowded kitchen drawer. Keeping a small flashlight in the night table by the beds of family members allows everyone to have some light to congregate in a common area.
A radio is an essential part of your family emergency kit as you can receive updates on the nature of the power blackout and estimates on when the power will be restored. This will help you decide to 'wait it out' or go to friends or family in an area that is unaffected.
Phone service can be disrupted when the power goes out if the outage is caused by a downed line which takes out both services. In some cases, the phone system remains functioning when the power is out, but depending on the type of phone you have, your land line may be useless. If you have an internet phone, or your phone requires external power, as is common with many hands free phones, you may not be able to dial out. Many homeowners keep an old style touch tone phone that plugs directly into the phone line and does not use an external power supply for just such emergencies. If you get a dial tone your phone service is working. If there is no dial tone, your next best alternative is the cellular network. Keeping your phone charged gives you a way of reaching out in the event you need emergency services.top
Carbon Monoxide is the Silent Killer
A large part of Canadian culture is camping and the outdoors. Many families have propane stoves, barbecues and a wide variety of devices that make our outdoor experiences more comfortable. The key word in that statement is 'outdoors'. Remember - most all of those devices are meant to be used outdoors in a well ventilated area. All devices fuelled by gasoline, naphtha and propane create carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is called 'the silent killer' because the colorless and odourless gas that builds up. Individuals think that they are suffering from a common headache or the flu, when in fact they have inhaled the gas.
DO NOT use camps stoves, barbecues, propane lanterns or power generators in your home, garage or shop. In fact, don't warm up your car in the garage or leave it running 'to keep it warm' between errands as the carbon monoxide can get into your home through the connecting doorway or air vents.
Your furnace, gas and wood burning stoves and water heater all have vents. Make sure that you do a quick check to ensure that snow has not blocked any of these vents.
Many families have back-up power generators, and while these will allow you to use some devices for lighting and heat, the generator needs to be placed outside, far away from any entrances (windows, doors and vents) to your house and your neighbour's house.
Please remember that if you intend to tie a generator into your home power grid that the installation must comply with the Provincial Electrical Codes and be done with a proper permit and inspection. Improper installations are an extreme hazard and can lead to a loss of life or property.
Apart from not using these devices indoors, you need to have functioning smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors in all areas of your home where people sleep and congregate. It's the law in BC, and it's also common sense. When there is a heavy snowfall air vents can become blocked and even running your car in the garage while you unload groceries or wait for a family member can create dangerous levels of gas.top
Is Your Address Visible from the Road?
If you do have an emergency and call for police, fire or ambulance service will we be able to see your address? One of the things you need to do is make sure that your address is visible from the road. In a power failure we will be able to use high powered flashlights to locate addresses, but if your address is covered with snow or obscured by a shrub it slows down response time.top
Some Other Hazards
During a large snowfall, one of the common calls to our emergency responders' is to assist people who fall off their roof or ladders while trying to clear gutters or their roof of large snow accumulations. Please use extreme caution in these situations. Follow the safe practices around the use of ladders.
Another issue is the danger from downed power lines. When there are large snow accumulations tree branches often pull down power lines, and the snow might cover them over. Treat every downed power line as if it is live, because BC Hydro crews may restore power to one section of a line at any time and that wire can come to life at any moment. Report downed lines to BC Hydro immediately.
If your pipes do freeze, don't heat them up with a blow torch. Again, this is one of those situations where the Fire Department often gets calls. People use a propane torch to heat the line and can accidentally ignite insulation or the beams surrounding the pipe. If you do have a frozen line, use a hair dryer or special electrical heat tape that's specifically designed for the task. One further comment, check with a plumber before you start thawing pipes. If done incorrectly you can go from a frozen pipe to a burst pipe and flood quite easily.top
Do You Have an Escape Plan?
What would you do if your smoke alarm or carbon monoxide detector went off? Do you have an escape route? Do you have a 'grab and go' emergency kit? What if part of your roof collapses? Make sure that you and your family review your emergency escape plans and know where you will all meet after an emergency. It's also a good idea to review escape routes with your holiday guests who might be sleeping over. Accounting for everyone's whereabouts in an emergency is critical.top
Do You Have an Emergency Kit?
You need to be prepared in your car and at home with the things that will keep your family safe and comfortable until regular services are restored.
Don't forget about your pets when making your Emergency plan. Each pet should have a "Grab and Go" kit, that contains food, water, blanket, vaccination certificates, leash, water and bowl and any other items critical to their comfort and safety.
Don't be caught off guard; know the hazards and take the time to assemble your family Emergency kit. The "Grab and Go" kits should be kept where they are easily accessible. Keep a smaller version of this kit in your car and at the office, so if you are not at home when a disaster strikes you will have the necessary items with you.top
Family Emergency Kit Checklist
Here's a list of some of the items that you should assemble for your Emergency kit:
- Water (4 litres per person per day)
- First Aid Kit
- Essential medications and eyeglasses
- Notebook, pen, reading material
- Flashlight - spare batteries and bulb
- Radio - portable, battery operated, batteries
- Packaged food (meat, canned food)
- Can opener
- Money - $10 change (Quarters for pay phones, for example)
- Family identification
- Dust mask
- Trash bags - large plastic - for trash, waste, water collection, protection
- Personal hygiene supplies (soap, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrushes etc)
- Candles, matches
- Multi-purpose knife
- Gloves (heavy duty for clearing debris)
- Clothing, shoes
For further information on emergency preparedness visit the following websites:
District of Maple Ridge "The Emergency Plan"
Provincial Emergency Program - www.pep.bc.ca
Check out 'Your Emergency Preparedness Guide' [PDF, 401KB] a document created by Public Safety Canada, which is a great interactive resource for your family to create a plan for any type of emergency.top
Caring for Those in Need
The Caring Place (Salvation Army) has put in thirty (30) additional night time beds effective November 1.
Area residents should be aware that outreach teams from Alouette Home Start Society have visited all of the homeless camps in the area and let them know that assistance is available. This contact will continue throughout the season in order to reach out to these vulnerable citizens.
If you want to assist the homeless with donations of food or clothing, winter jackets, blankets etc, contact:
Caring Place Ministries: 604-463-8296
Alouette Outreach: 604-616-4784
Maple Ridge Food Bank (Friends in Need): 604-466-3663top
Don't Forget Your Pets
The SPCA has issued an advisory regarding leaving your pets outside in the severe weather. Please remember to have an emergency kit prepared for your pets and to make sure that you do not leave your animals outdoors in the extreme cold.
'Emergency Planning For Your Pet' [PDF, 167KB] will help you plan for the care and safety of your furry family members.
The BC SPCA has an article on their website that discusses some key issues around pets and this time of year.top