'Weather is changing' and Hamilton emergency officials want you to be prepared

Hamilton's Emergency Plan has been activated 11 times since 2005 — all of those incidents were weather-related, except for one in 2013 when the city accepted evacuees from Slave Lake.

Extreme weather events are becoming 'more frequent,' says fire chief

An ice storm froze Hamilton to a halt and caused severe flooding along Lake Ontario. A wind storm toppled trees, knocked out power to more than 1,000 and left three people dead.

Two, serious, weather-related emergencies have struck Hamilton in recent weeks, and emergency officials say there's every indication those types of events will continue to become more extreme and occur more often.

"The weather is changing," said Hamilton fire chief David Cunliffe.

"All you need to do is look at the last couple of weeks ... I think we're starting to see a trend where things are starting to happen more frequently and I think we need to be prepared for that."

A list of top threats complied by the Emergency Management Program includes toxic spills, explosions and an active shooter situation. But despite the range of risks, weather was the reason for Hamilton's Emergency Plan to be activated on all but one occasion since 2005.

In the past 13 years, the plan has been utilized 11 times — the only time an emergency wasn't weather-related, was in 2013 when the city accepted evacuees from Slave Lake, according to emergency management coordinator Connie Verhaeghe.

That trend has emergency officials looking for ways to ensure the city, and residents are ready when the next weather event hits during the annual Emergency Preparedness Week.

So what are the greatest risks facing Hamilton?

  • Hazardous Materials Incident/Spills – Fixed Site Incident
  • Flooding
  • Hazardous Materials Incident/Spills –Transportation Incident
  • Human Health Emergency
  • Energy Emergency – Supply
  • Extreme Ice Storm
  • Explosion and Fire
  • Transportation Emergency – Rail
  • Critical Infrastructure – Telecommunications
  • Active Shooter/Violent Situation

The list is "constantly updated" based on factors within the city and around the world, according to Cunliffe.

Just look at the list from 2011, when terrorism was ranked at No. 4, ahead of flooding and far above ice storms, which came in at No. 9.

It can take up to a year to develop the list using a provincial methodology, explained Verhaeghe.

She said one reason extreme weather events make up so much of the most recent list is that their "impact" has become more extreme.

Verhaeghe pointed to flooding in Dundas in April 2017 as an example.

Flooding in Dundas in 2017 shut down several roads and caused a mud slide. (Matt Llewellyn/CBC)

"The impact was just incredible," she said. "We lost a lot of roads and bridges down at the conservation area."

Emergency officials take lessons from each event, Verhaeghe added.

Lessons from the windstorm

One takeaway from last week's wind storm? People who ran outside to use their vehicles as phone chargers once the power went out should consider buying a portable phone charger.

"It's the simple things like keeping your phone charged at least 50 per cent, 75 per cent, that can keep you connected to what's happening," she said.

Over the course of the week, city officials are asking residents to do the following:

  • Day 1: Make a plan for evacuation and learn about emergency threats.
  • Day 2: Buy emergency supplies including a "go-bag" with food, a flashlight and chargers.
  • Day 3: Prepare for your unique needs by ensuring you know what medication or medical equipment you'll need.
  • Day 4: Get informed and sign up for alerts to get updates in the event of an emergency.
  • Day 5: Create a kit for your pets that can hold food, toys and medical records.

With a hot, hazy summer predicted this year, Cunliffe said people should prepare for the possibility of more flooding, high winds and power outages.

"The city is ready. We need our residents to be ready."