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Planning for a natural disaster

Extreme weather events are on the rise and climate change experts project that we're going to have to get used to even more hot extremes, heat waves and heavy precipitation in the future (such as Hurricane Juan that hit Nova Scotia in 2003 or the 2005 Toronto rain storm). The economic costs are considerable: the Insurance Bureau of Canada reports that insurance losses due to natural disasters between 1991 and 2004 totaled almost $5.2 billion, with the greatest losses due to the 1998 Quebec ice storm, hailstorms, flooding and fires.

Damage and personal loss caused by natural disasters can be devastating, but you can help minimize those effects on you and your home by being prepared. "Canadians have experienced a number of natural disasters, so emergencies do happen in Canada," says Philip McLinton, spokesperson for Public Safety Canada. "Everyone should take steps to prepare for the unexpected."

Once you've assessed the risks and developed a family emergency plan, it's time to prepare your home and property.

"Through preparedness you can work on loss prevention and mitigation," says Paul Kovacs, executive director of the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction (ICLR) in Toronto. "You can put some extra features into your home or office so it'll hold up. The losses can be reduced and even eliminated."

The biggest obstacle to preparing your home is time, not cost, says Kovacs, and the key is to take steps before the bad weather comes. It's much easier to secure your home on a sunny day than when floodwaters are rising.

So read on to find out more about some of Canada's more prevalent natural hazards and a few simple protective measures the ICLR suggests you take to keep your home sweet home safe.

RISK: Earthquakes
Earthquakes are considered to be one of the most dangerous natural hazards. Each year, more than 50 earthquakes are strong enough to be felt by Canadians while 1,400 more are detected by monitoring equipment. Western Canada and the St. Lawrence Valley are most at risk for a major destructive earthquake.

Be prepared:

  • Anchor bookcases and filing cabinets to nearby walls and use closed eye screws to secure frames and mirrors to walls.
  • Secure objects, such as water heaters and stoves, that could start a fire or break gas lines.
  • Install latches on drawers and cabinets to stop them from swinging open.
  • Secure hanging lights to the permanent structure of your home.
  • Apply safety film to windows and glass doors.
  • Check with a building engineer that the structural elements of your house are sound and that the roof is attached to the walls, the walls to each other and the walls are braced and anchored to a strong foundation.

RISK : Floods
Spring thaw and heavy storm rainfall are the main causes of flooding, which can happen in any region at any time of year. Floods are the most costly natural disasters in Canada in terms of property damage.

Be prepared:

  • Install flood shields, weather sealant or built-up barriers that extend above ground level to basement windows and doors.
  • Ensure your main circuit breaker or fuse box is raised above flood level.
  • Install backflow valves to prevent sewer lines from backing up.
  • Install a sump pump system if your floors are below ground level.
  • Position downspouts so water moves away from your home.

(continued on next page)
-- Posted: Sept. 19, 2007
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