Mark Griffioen, Assistant Fire Chief, Emergency Planning.
Mark Griffioen, Assistant Fire Chief, Emergency Planning.
Mark Griffioen, Assistant Fire Chief, Emergency Planning.

We live in one of the highest risk earthquake zones in the country, but apart from a recent 3.7 jolt that did no damage other than accelerating heart rates for a few minutes, we really don’t know first-hand, the devastation that will likely happen at some time. There are areas of Surrey and the Lower Mainland that flood occasionally, but we’ve seen nothing like the flood of 1948 when a huge part of the Fraser Valley from Chilliwack to the coast was under water.

In the extreme cold we’ve just experienced, what would you do if your power went out for an extended period? What if you were one of those unfortunate people who found out how vulnerable they really were when their condominium complex was heavily damaged by fire, many losing their possessions because someone smoking on a balcony wasn’t careful?

The hazards are always there, but you can do something about it by making sure you’re prepared for a time (experts say at least seventy-two hours) when you may have to look after yourself and your loved ones in the midst of a crisis too big for 911 to come to your aid.

Whether you can’t get out of the house for three days, or you have to flee in the middle of the night, if you’ve thought about it and made some preparation, you’re way ahead of most people who won’t get around to it. Once the event gets underway, be it earthquake, fire, hazardous waste event, flood, it’s too late to check online to find out what to do, what you need to have on hand, or to take with you like, right now!

Mark Griffioen (pronounced grif-EWIN) is the Assistant Fire Chief for Surrey’s Fire Service responsible for Emergency Planning and Community Engagement. We wanted to know what people need to do in preparation for disaster, and what their role might be in a Neighbourhood Disaster Plan, so you and your neighbours can effectively function when 911 can’t respond.

“Each community has information on their websites about planning for such an event and what should be in your Grab & Go Kit,” said Griffioen, “as long as it’s something prepared in advance and left near your exit for that moment in time when you “gotta get out…NOW!” whether it’s midday or midnight.”

The Chief said that pre-planning is the key to improving your survival. That there are many variables that make a simple list that fits everyone difficult. Instead it starts with context.

“Consider the things that are likely to happen here,” said Griffioen. “We don’t have to worry about a volcano, a tsunami has limited impact on us, earthquake certainly is a much higher threat. We have major residential and industrial interfaces with forest lands which can present a wildfire hazard, flooding is a risk if you’re in the lower areas such as the Serpentine and Nicomekl River plains, Bridgeview, Port Kells and so on, and finally Hazardous Materials (Hazmat) issues. In fact, we consider hazmat as one of the main concerns along with other environmental issues because many hazardous goods are transported by road, rail and pipelines.  All of those transportation related hazards involve fire which by its very nature is a hazmat issue.”

So what should such a Grab and Go Kit contain? Here’s where it can get very complicated.

“I have to say check the website,” said Griffioen, “because we have grab and go kits for people, for pets, for your office, for your car, and for your house. They are all described in minute detail in the website documents.”

Here are some key considerations:
• You won’t starve in 72 hours, but safe drinking water is another matter. Have some water purification tablets on hand. They’re inexpensive and readily available.

  • Just about everyone has a cell phone, but how will you keep it charged? Some windup radios have flashlight and phone charger capabilities built in and should be considered since you could use both of those. There are also solar-powered chargers available.
  • Prepare a card with key contact phone numbers, and arrange a contact person outside of the region or province where family members can check in. Also have copies of identification: health card numbers, passport, birth certificates and up to date pictures of each family member to help in searching if they become separated from the group.
    • Basic first aid kit for small injuries.
    • Some cash in small bills, credit card
  • Extra car and house keys
  • Critical medications, extra eye glasses, toiletries and personal hygiene products

and the list goes on.

A small kit need not be expensive, simply well thought out. But there are also kits in back packs that can run into large numbers.

“If you were to add the costs of these kits, it’s significant and I would argue it may be too expensive and out of reach for many of our citizens, and too hard to keep up to date,” said Griffioen. “People need to be prepared to be on their own for seventy-two hours. This is not a new message, but I’m afraid they’re becoming complacent with it. I would argue that in some situations, especially in suburbia, that we already have seventy-two hours of supply just because many people have tents, blankets, stoves and other stuff in their homes. For the stuff you don’t have, the community will have it, and that’s where my passion and my energy are focused: enabling communities to support each other, essentially to the point of self-governance.”

“We don’t have the resources right now to deal immediately with the ice,” Griffioen said, “so what if this freeze was an earthquake? There are thousands of people for every one first-responder, so the answer is personal preparedness combined with a more powerful, organized neighbourhood that works together. Many times people don’t even know the people in their own neighbourhoods, so I have developed a map to chart community education on this matter. I’ve presented to twelve groups this year. We will continue to deliver the personal preparedness message when we’re asked to, but I’ve told the facilitators their goal is to have everyone understand how important the neighbourhood program is, so call us, 604-543-6700, and we’ll help you organize your neighbourhood.”

In future articles, we’ll provide more tips for preparedness. In the meantime, take some time away for the TV and check out the documents on Surrey’s website: Fraser Health’s plan:  or your own city’s Municipal website, generally under public safety and/or emergency preparedness.