How to survive a disaster in Punjabi and other languages

Bowen Island residents listening to the emergency preparedness session offered by Canadian Red Cross volunteer Sarah Thompson. | Photo by Simon Yee

Bowen Island residents listening to the emergency preparedness session offered by Canadian Red Cross volunteer Sarah Thompson. | Photo by Simon Yee

All people are vulnerable to natural disasters but for culturally diverse communities, language barriers and unfamiliarity with emergency procedures pose additional challenges.

Surviving a natural catastrophes the focus of Emergency Preparedness Week, an annual campaign organized by Public Safety Canada in partnership with community groups throughout B.C. The initiative offers workshops, fairs, and rallies in multiple languages to broaden knowledge of disaster preparation and reach as many communities as possible.

Getting the word out in the right languages

According to a 2008 provincial fact sheet, since British Columbia sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, the province is more prone to earthquakes and related disasters such landslides and tsunamis. While many new immigrants to B.C. come from other Ring of Fire countries, such as the Philippines and Japan, the information taught in their native countries about disaster preparation often differs from accepted practices in B.C., according to Kenny Leung of the Canadian Red Cross.

An emergency kit for 72 hour survival. Photo By Simon Yee

An emergency kit for 72 hour survival. Photo By Simon Yee

Public Safety Canada’s Get Prepared website recommends three steps to be prepared for an emergency: know what types of disasters are most common in your province, make a plan so that family members know what actions to take during an emergency, and get an emergency kit to survive for at least 72 hours while emergency responders help those in critical need.

Many Lower Mainland municipalities offer emergency preparedness workshops that help people accomplish these steps and while most are conducted in English, several municipalities, including Vancouver and Surrey, offer workshops in Cantonese, Mandarin and Punjabi upon request. The Get Prepared website has pamphlets in several languages as well.

In addition, the Canadian Red Cross offers free SmartStart workshops in 18 languages. These workshops are specifically aimed at providing newcomers and other non-English speakers with the practical skills needed in a disaster in their own languages and in a way that is culturally appropriate.

According to Cheekwan Ho, communications manager at Canadian Red Cross, the program has enlisted 15 volunteers to visit 400 Greater Vancouver households of non-English-speaking, socially isolated seniors in order to educate them on staying safe by preventing falls and earthquake proofing.

Beyond workshops through rallies and fairs

Other B.C. communities promote emergency preparedness in creative ways. The town of Colwood held their 7th Annual Regional Emergency Preparedness Fair, which provided interactive learning opportunities children and families.

New Westminster’s Emergency Management Office wanted to draw attention to the importance of cyclists during a disaster, as they may be able to reach places that larger vehicles cannot.

The city hosted their first ever Amazing Disaster Rally on May 10 where 50 cyclists participated in a series of exercises designed to simulate routing of disaster response teams and transport emergency supplies quickly throughout the city. New Westminster’s assistant emergency planner Cory McLaren hopes this activity will expand next year to include even more cyclist participation.

According to McLaren, these types of events can help more people prepare for disasters.

“Workshops and dioramas are important in getting the message across to families,” says McLaren. “But we wanted to reach different demographics with this rally.”

Volunteers key to preparedness initiative

According to Emergency Management BC, there are approximately 13,000 volunteers across British Columbia who are ready to assist first responders in an emergency. Additionally, many also offer their time to educate and prepare others for emergencies.

“We know that our communities come together during emergencies, and that neighbours and friends support each other when disaster strikes,” says Susie Gimse, a director from the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District, in a news release.

“Emergency Preparedness Week gives us a chance to talk about emergencies before they happen, and to connect with the groups, services, and agencies that work to keep our community safe and resilient every day.”

To learn more about emergency preparedness and for workshop information, please visit: