Helicopters Magazine

Features Procedures Safety & Training
Better Safe Than Sorry

January 15, 2014  By Paul Dixon

The first piece I wrote for Helicopters magazine was entitled “Post Disaster Preparation: Are You Ready?”

The first piece I wrote for Helicopters magazine was entitled “Post Disaster Preparation: Are You Ready?” It’s five years later and the question still stands: are
you prepared?

That article was based on the premise that commercial helicopter operators have a critical role in the hours, days and weeks following a disaster, while at the same time they are just as much at risk as the rest of their community. In order to be ready to respond, you must survive the event. That won’t happen unless you understand the threats that you, your employees and your business are exposed to, take steps to mitigate those threats and make planning part of your ongoing business plan.

In 2013, the Insurance Bureau of Canada released a study that outlines the likely impact of a major earthquake on Canadian communities and the Canadian insurance industry. The study looked at the impact of two hypothetical earthquakes – a 9.0 super quake off the west coast of Vancouver Island and a 7.1 quake underneath the St. Lawrence River. In both cases, the physical damage predicted would be devastating across large areas and the financial impact would be crippling for individuals, governments and especially the insurance industry. The conclusion of the study is we are woefully unprepared as individuals and as a society in general to deal with disaster.

Don’t hide behind the argument that earthquakes don’t happen where you live or work. Wherever you live, work or play, there are a number of potential disasters that could happen. The people of Slave Lake didn’t expect their town to be overrun by wildfire, just as the people of Calgary and southwestern Alberta didn’t expect to be flood victims last summer. Who could have imagined the catastrophe in Lac Megantic?


It’s easy to shrug it off by thinking it can’t happen where you are and people will come up with a thousand validations for that argument. The grim reality, however, is every corner of this country has the potential to be devastated by something. Yes, I will concede there will be disasters for which no amount of preparation will be enough. It could happen, but it’s not likely and if it does (if, not when) you can say you told me so. Your challenge – your responsibility and duty to your family, employees, co-workers and community at large – is to take simple steps that will give you the resilience to survive the initial event and the ability to carry on afterwards.

The first step is to accept the fact that sooner or later something is going to happen in your life that is going to knock you flat on your back. Think about it now, prepare for the moment and maybe you’ll be able to step out of the way. This could be something as simple as getting a proper medical checkup, which is just simply looking out for yourself. In terms of a Slave Lake-type event, ask yourself this: do you have an emergency kit (food, clothing, water) for yourself and
your family?

If you are not home when something happens, and not able to get home, will your family know what to do and have the resources available? This is the time to start working on that plan. It’s the same thing for your company or operation – will you be able to carry on business? Do your employees know what’s expected of them if communications go down? Do you have alternative sources of fuel and if the power is out across the region do you have generators for your critical infrastructure? Does your operation have an ironclad emergency crisis plan?

How about your business records? If your office burned down tonight and everything in it was destroyed, how would that affect your ability to carry on? Do you back up your records regularly and store them off-site (up in the clouds)? How about your insurance? In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the overwhelming majority of businesses that did not survive failed due to no or insufficient insurance. Now is the time to talk to your insurance agent and understand exactly where you stand.

Emergency planning needs to be a part of how you live your life and how you carry on your business. Helicopter operators, being first responders, must carry out all aspects of proper preparation, and it doesn’t hurt to review company procedures and evaluate on a personal level your role and responsibilities under stress.

The bottom line? It’s simply good business and ultimately, will save lives. As you may recall, it wasn’t raining when Noah started building the ark.

Paul Dixon is freelance writer and photojournalist living in Vancouver.


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