As the northeastern part of North America braces for the onslaught of Hurricane Sandy (dubbed the “Frankenstorm” by some in the media because of its particularly ferocious prospects in the days before Hallowe’en), there are plenty of warnings in Toronto and elsewhere about the need for people to take effective emergency planning measures. Inevitably, the concerns centre on flooded basements, downed power lines and electrical blackouts and difficulties in getting around. And, public authorities are once again advising people to take shelter in their homes, stock up on batteries and stockpile 72 hours worth of food.
But what about the unsheltered homeless? Thousands of people in the Greater Toronto Area, and hundreds of thousands in the expected path of the huge storm, are sleeping rough in parks and unprotected areas, and many more are living in substandard housing or other precarious situations. They don’t have a safe place to call home, and a safe place of refuge from the storm.
And what about the hungry? The Daily Bread Food Bank reports that there are 1.1 million visits to food banks by hungry people in the Greater Toronto Area last year. For these people, getting enough food for a day is a huge challenge – stockpiling food for 72 hours is a practical impossibility.
In 2009, the Wellesley Institute published a healthy equity guide to emergency preparedness planning as the province of Ontario was bracing for a possible H1N1 epidemic. The health equity lessons set out back then remain extremely important in other emergency planning for natural disasters (such as storms), health disasters (pandemics) and other disasters.
Neglecting and abandoning vulnerable people risks exposing them to serious health risks, including the possibility of premature death.