Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series on emergency preparedness in Central Alberta. part 2: Officials have a plan to deal with disasters.
When Hurricane Sandy pounded the northeastern United States in late October, it killed more than 100 people, destroyed or severely damaged thousands of homes, and cut power supplies and transportation links.
It also illustrated the importance of emergency planning.
“Hurricane Sandy was a very sobering reminder for all of us that have anything to do with emergency preparedness,” said Timothy Wilson, a public affairs officer with Alberta Municipal Affairs — the department that oversees the Alberta Emergency Management Agency.
“It was really a horrible thing to see. At the same time, it was a really good reminder that when you’re not in the middle of an emergency, take some time to prepare a 72-hour emergency kit for your family and to make a plan with your family.”
The Alberta Emergency Management Agency recommends making provision for at least three full days of self-sufficiency.
It lists blizzards, tornadoes, wildfires, floods, power outages and industrial or transportation accidents as potential dangers.
Some people fear more ominous threats with longer-term consequences.
Dec. 21, 2012, has been identified by many as a possible date for a catastrophic global event.
Motivated by a belief that the day will coincide with the end of a 5,125-year cycle in the Mayan long count calendar, they’re predicting everything from a gravitational disruption to a reversal of the Earth’s geomagnetic field to a collision with an interplanetary object.
Scientists have dismissed such fears, but the prospects of disaster — local or widespread — have spurred some Central Albertans to action.
Kim May, sales manager at Red Deer’s Valhalla Pure Outfitters, said many customers have been buying survival basics. Demand was greatest, she pointed out, prior to the arrival of 2012.
“They still come in,” said May, “but it’s not as aggressive as it was last year.”
Many are interested in the essentials required for a home or vehicle emergency kit: lanterns, blankets, sleeping bags, camp stoves, freeze-dried foods, water purification kits and the like. But some are preparing to hunker down for the long term.
“We do get people in that are just taking it to the nines; where they’re just completely going off-grid,” said May.
“I had a gentlemen come in last year who was teaching his entire family how to kill and clean (game), make lean-tos, that sort of stuff.”
Preppers have been less conspicuous at other local stores.
Jamie Osmond, manager of Wolverine Guns & Tackle, hasn’t noticed a surge in business as Dec. 21 approaches.
“There’s a little bit of talk about it, but we haven’t seen any hype as far as our survival stuff hiking in sales because of it.”
A spokesperson with United Farmers of Alberta Co-operative Ltd. said there hasn’t been a run on survival supplies at the Co-op’s Farm & Ranch Supply Stores.
Red Deer south Canadian Tire general manager Terry Dockrill tells a similar story.
“Sometimes in the spring, when we’ve got flooding around here and stuff like that, we do see a spike in things,” noted Dockrill. “The candles, the tarps, your flashlight items.”
He added that some of the camping supplies that Canadian Tire sells probably ends up in emergency kits. And in the past, when the store has set up an “emergency pod” where supplies like waterproof matches, axes, blankets and the like are displayed together, consumers have responded positively.
“It does well.”
Although most people aren’t bracing for an earth-altering event, many are. There is no shortage of online forums and websites dedicated to the subject.
One Red Deer resident, who did not want to be identified, told the Advocate that he knows a number of people who are quietly preparing for a major calamity.
“Preppers have a crazy connotation attached because of TV and media,” he explained via email.
“If you have all the gear, tools, food and plans, then everyone praises your readiness. The second you mention a scenario/conspiracy other than a power outage, then the mood turns.”
The man said his family has the standard emergency supplies, but also keeps a supply of cash in case electronic commerce fails. They’re prepared to flee the city should the situation deteriorate — such as might happen if food and water becomes scarce — and have even obtained firearms training.
“This is a touchy subject, but a dozen of our close friends are also well-armed and train regularly.”
Stockpiling supplies and preparing for a disaster is no different than equipping your house with smoke detectors and fire extinguishers, and planning an escape plan, he suggested.
“Better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.”