Natural Disaster Survival Tips From a Canadian Red Cross Volunteer

A Canadian Red Cross volunteer shares expert advice on how to prepare for a natural disaster.

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Natural Disaster Survival Kit
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Assemble a natural disaster survival kit

Plan ahead by assembling a natural disaster survival kit with enough supplies to last at least 72 hours. Include blankets, water and food—and don’t forget a manual can opener, says Guy Lepage, a veteran Canadian Red Cross volunteer. “A lot of people have electric ones, but if you’ve got no power, you’ve got a big problem.”

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Natural disaster survival kit - Backpack on wooden table
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Keep your natural disaster survival kit in a backpack or gym bag

Make sure your natural disaster survival kit is placed in something that zips up and is easy to carry. Don’t get stuck with an unwieldy plastic container or unsealable bag during an evacuation.

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Woman with pills
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Take extra care of medications

If you use a hearing aid and live in an area prone to earthquakes, secure the device to your nightstand using Velcro. As well, Lepage says running out of medications is one of the most common problems people face during an emergency, so always have at least three days’ worth of pills on hand.

Here’s what every first aid kit needs to include.

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Cat and dog sleeping on couch
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Remember your pets

Find out in advance which hotels and shelters allow animals, and stock your pet’s medication like you would your own. Keep a crate and plenty of food for your furry friend.

Read the terrifying story of the worst forest fire in Canada’s history.

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Road maps with pins
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Never go digital

Analog maps and paper money may seem cumbersome in the digital age, but when a natural disaster knocks out the power grid, you’ll be glad to have them on hand.

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Survival tips include texting instead of calling
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Text instead of call

Let family and friends know you are safe by texting them instead of calling. A text is more likely to get through than a phone call if cellular networks are overwhelmed. Plus you will help free up phone lines, which are needed by rescue workers.

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Natural disaster survival - dripping faucet
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Collect water

If a winter storm has you stuck inside, let your faucets trickle continuously and collect the water in a basin. This will keep the pipes from freezing and ensure you’ve got enough water to cook and bathe (and make plenty of hot chocolate).

Take a look back at Canada’s worst snowstorms.

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Natural disaster survival - child holding teddy bear
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Make preparation a family affair

“We encourage people to discuss it around the kitchen table,” Lepage says. Ask your kids what they’d like to take with them during an evacuation. It may just be a blanket or a stuffed animal, but that could be enough to keep them calmer during a crisis.

Here’s more advice on how to prepare for a natural disaster as a family.

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Natural disaster survival - tornado
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Don’t believe what you see in the movies

A doorway isn’t the safest place to be in an earthquake (you should seek shelter under a table instead), and waiting in your car beneath an overpass is one of the worst things you can do in a tornado. Don’t believe what you see in the movies.

This was the worst tornado in Canadian history.

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Glass of water on wooden table
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Purify your water

If the water in your area becomes contaminated, you may need to purify it using iodine tablets, which impart an unpleasant flavour. Make treated water more palatable by passing it back and forth several times between two separate containers.

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Canadian passport
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Photocopy important documents

Photocopy your passports, licences, wills and insurance forms—and store them in a re-sealable plastic bag, along with recent photos of family members. Scan each document to create a PDF file, which you can then email to yourself or store using a cloud-based service like Dropbox, iCloud or Google Drive.

How well do you remember your emergency response training? Take our first aid quiz and find out.

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Pumping gas into car
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Keep your car’s gas tank full

Life in Canada doesn’t stop for a blizzard or an ice storm, so keep your car’s gas tank full to ensure the fuel line doesn’t freeze. And if you use a backup generator at home, remember never to run it indoors—even in the garage—as it could cause carbon monoxide poisoning.

Here’s what to do when your car breaks down in winter.

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Natural disaster survival - locking front door
Photo: Stefan Malloch /

Practice makes perfect

Run through your emergency procedures once or twice a year, making sure each family member knows what to do. “If you get the call that you’ve got to evacuate,” Lepage says, “it’s a lot less stressful knowing everyone’s ready.”

Now that you know these natural disaster survival tips, take a look back at the worst natural disasters in Canadian history.

Reader's Digest Canada
Originally Published in Reader's Digest Canada

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