Water Safety During Natural Disasters

Natural DisastersNatural Disasters often leave us wondering why. The ferocious October storm Hurricane Sandy reminded us of a few things. The power of a community coming together. The strength and resiliency of the human spirit. The importance of our loved ones.

Natural disasters also remind us of emergency preparedness and the role water management plays in seeing a community safely through a hurricane, earthquake or tornado. When the power is out, when streets become impassable and when homes turn into piles of rubble, access to clean and safe drinking water becomes much more vital to daily survival and long term rebuilding efforts.

Protecting the Water System During Natural Disasters

Preparing for natural disasters before they occur is the first step in ensuring access to safe and clean drinking water in the event of a crisis. Municipalities, water providers and water treatment plants do this by evaluating the most likely risks to a region and assessing the water delivery systems.

In Western Canada, the most likely natural disasters include flooding, tornadoes, plough winds, extreme winter weather such as blizzards, landslides in the mountains, and earthquakes or tsunami surges closer to the coast .

The Impact of Flooding

Flooding, which caused water quality concerns after Hurricane Sandy, can cause the most damage to water systems by pushing contaminated water into drinking water sources or by causing power outages at water treatment facilities. This has been the case in the Northeast where some areas hit the hardest by Hurricane Sandy still have boil water notices in effect.

Water facilities can plan for flooding by having emergency backup power systems and effective communication plans. Getting the right information to communities through the media and other channels quickly can help protect people from drinking contaminated water.

What You Can Do

Emergency preparedness involves us all and you can do your part at home as well. The Canadian Red Cross provides numerous resources for preparing for natural disasters including the most likely risks for your region.

The organization also offers guidance on how to create an emergency preparedeness kit. This kit should include two litres of drinking water and two litres of water for washing per person per day for 72 hours. You should also refresh this water supply once a year.

We can never know exactly when a disaster will strike our community and test the strength of our will to survive. We can, however, work together to prepare for disasters. Water management is a community effort and together, as a community, we can weather the storms coming out stronger and healthier on the other side.