Covering the bases: Why You Need a Home Evacuation Plan

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Every Canadian should be prepared for emergencies. That could mean a fire, flood or power outage, earthquake, blizzard, tornado or other extreme storm, or even a nuclear event.

There is a reminder almost every day as we watch the news, in the form of earthquakes in some areas of Quebec and the Maritimes, forest fires in the west, and flooding in the east. There is often little to no warning. An emergency knows no borders and can happen anywhere and at any time.


It does not matter where you live

In the event of an emergency, it could take time for responders to get to your area, especially in rural communities. So, it is vital to have a home evacuation plan in place. It is also vital that everyone in the home is aware of the evacuation plan and understands the plan.

“It is important for all Canadians to think about home fire escape plans and emergency evacuation plans regardless of where they live,” says Ryan Betts, public safety education manager for the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management, Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services.

You should also be aware of Alert Ready, an emergency alert system that delivers critical information to Canadians through television, radio, and wireless devices.

“Emergencies happen when we do not expect them,” says Zarah Malik, a spokesperson for Public Safety Canada. “They happen often when families are not together. Suddenly, you need to think about your kids at school or elderly parents across town. If phones do not work, or some neighbourhoods are not accessible, what will you do?”

Make a Plan

There are plenty of online resources with information on putting together a plan for you and your family. Public Safety Canada has an emergency preparedness guide written in tandem with the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs, Canadian Red Cross, St. John Ambulance and Salvation Army.

Your plan should start with having an escape route from the home, including emergency exits, that are understood and rehearsed by every member of the family. Make sure you set up meeting places outside the home, have a support network among neighbours and check on your children’s school and daycare emergency policies. Your plan should include instructions for the home, such as the locations for the fire extinguisher, water valve, gas valve, floor drain and electrical panel. It should also include the phone number for the utility company.

The Canadian Red Cross offers a simple template for an evacuation plan that you can download and The National Fire Protection Association tells you how to put together a home escape plan in the event of a fire.

In addition to having an emergency plan, Chris Allsop, emergency management co-ordinator for the Canadian Red Cross, offers these tips as well:


  • Know the risks. Plan on taking care of you and your family for at least 72 hours. What about extended family who may not be able to care for themselves. What about family pets or other animals?
  • Get an evacuation kit. Make sure you have enough supplies for those 72 hours. That means food, water, flashlight, radio, rechargers for any electronics and first-aid kit. The kit needs to take into account special health needs and medications. Allsop says the Red Cross sells premade kits, ranging from small kits for one person to family-size kits.


As Malik says, having an emergency plan will save time and make real situations less stressful.

“There has been a shift where risks are becoming more complex,” she adds. “Disasters are becoming more frequent, severe and costly. The public needs to be more proactive. They need to focus greater attention on reducing risk factors in advance of hazards occurring.”

Having a plan will also free up first responders to focus on the individuals who need assistance the most.