Canadians’ experiences with emergencies and disasters, 2014

by Dyna Ibrahim

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Highlights

  • In 2014, more than 12.4 million Canadians aged 15 years and older reported having personally experienced a major emergency or disaster within their community in their lifetime; nearly three in four (73%) indicated that the emergency was significant enough to have severely disrupted their regular daily routine.
  • Canadians who had previously experienced a major emergency most commonly experienced blizzards, winter storms or ice storms (46%), extended power outages (36%) or floods (12%).
  • About two in three persons affected by a major emergency experienced a loss of electricity (63%) or were prevented from going to work or attending school (61%), and more than half had to miss an appointment or a planned activity (52%).
  • More than a quarter of people affected by major emergencies had to evacuate their homes (29%) or were unable to use roads or transportation within their communities (28%).
  • Nearly a third of Canadians who experienced a major emergency experienced some form of a financial impact or property loss (32%). Less than one in ten suffered emotional or psychological effects (8%) and about 3% endured some form of a physical injury or health consequences.
  • Just over half (56%) of Canadians who experienced a major emergency or disaster received help from others, most commonly from a family member (37%) or a neighbour (24%). Almost equally as many people (59%) were themselves asked for assistance by someone else during the emergency, and most were able to provide the assistance needed.
  • Most Canadians (85%) who experienced a major emergency or disaster were able to resume their regular daily activities within two weeks. For about 6% of Canadians who endured a financial loss and 23% who experienced psychological impacts, full recovery from these consequences took more than one year.
  • Close to two out of three Canadians who were single or never married (62%) recovered from the emergency’s financial impact within one week, compared to one in three Canadians who were separated or divorced (34%E).
  • About one in three seniors 65 years and older (36%E) and one-to-two member households (32%) had to evacuate their homes as a result of the emergency they experienced.
  • Youth under 25 years old (64%) and seniors (60%) were the most likely to have received assistance during or immediately following an emergency.

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Ice storms, floods, wildfires, and hazardous materials spills are examples of the types of disasters that many Canadians have experienced. According to Public Safety Canada’s Canadian Disaster Database (CDD)Note 1 there were 281 significant disasters in Canada between the years 2000 and 2014. Floods made up nearly one-third (30%) of these major disasters, followed by wildfires (20%) and severe storms or thunderstorms (16%).

Using data from the Survey of Emergency Preparedness and Resilience in Canada (SEPR), this report presents analysis on Canadians’ experiences of major emergencies and disasters. Conducted in 2014, the SEPR collected information on factors that affect how well individuals and communities are able to prepare for, prevent, respond to and recover from major emergencies and disasters. This report will highlight the types of major emergencies experienced by Canadians, the impact of these events on their daily lives and the length of time it took to recover from the disaster. Lastly, the relationship between some socio-demographic characteristics and Canadians’ experiences with major emergencies is examined, in terms of impacts, vulnerability and recovery.Note 2

Two in five Canadians experienced a major emergency in their community

According to the SEPR, more than 12.4 million people (or 43% of Canadians aged 15 years and older) from the provinces reported personally experiencing a major emergency or disaster within their community in their lifetime.Note 3 Nearly three-quarters (73%) of these individuals, or about 9 million Canadians, indicated that the emergency had been significant enough to severely disrupt their regular daily routine, preventing them from participating in activities such as going to school or work, preparing meals, bathing or doing household chores.Note 4

Winter storms, extended power outages and floods most frequent types of emergencies experienced

Most of the emergencies experienced by Canadians across the provinces were natural disasters or weather-related emergencies as opposed to those resulting from human action or error. Of Canadians who reported experiencing a major emergency (significant enough to severely interrupt their regular daily activities), about two in three (67%) stated that it was weather-related. Winter stormsNote 5 were the most common type of emergency in Canada, experienced by over 4 million Canadians (46%), followed by extended power outages (i.e. lasting 24 hours or longer) (36%) and floods (12%) (Table 1).

Both weather-related and human induced emergencies can have significant implications for individuals ranging from immediate disruptions to daily activities such as having to miss work or a planned activity, to more serious impacts including home evacuation and loss of access to roads and public transportation. In some cases these emergencies can lead to loss of property or financial impacts, major physical injuries or health-related consequences or long-term emotional or psychological effects.

Loss of electricity and absence from work or school were short-term effects experienced by many

A less severe, but commonly experienced disruption to daily activities is loss of electricity, reported by nearly two-thirds (63%) of people affected by a major emergency or disaster (Chart 1).Note 6 A similar proportion (61%) also indicated that the emergency they experienced prevented them from going to work or from attending school and just over half (52%) reported missing a planned activity such as an appointment or recreational activity. Although generally less common, being forced to evacuate or having limited transportation were two of the more severe immediate impacts experienced by Canadians facing an emergency situation or a disaster. Overall, 29% of those who had experienced a major emergency or disaster had to evacuate their homes and a similar proportion (28%) were unable to use roads or transportation in their communities.

Chart 1

Description for Chart 1
Chart 1 Short-term impacts of major emergencies and disasters on daily activities, Canada, 2014
Short-term impact percent
Had to leave or evacuate home 29
Unable to use electrical appliances 63
Unable to heat or cool home 44
Unable to prepare hot meals at home 35
Unable to store perishable foods at home 29
Unable to use water at home for tasks 38
Had to boil drinking water/drink bottled water 44
Unable to communicate with people outside of household 13
Unable to use roads or transportation within the community 28
Had to miss work/school 61
Had to miss appointments/planned activities 52
Other impact on daily activities 34
Note:
Responses of 'don't know/not stated' are included in the percentage calculation but are not shown when representing 5% or less of respondents. Respondents were asked to indicate which events they have personally experienced, and to include only events that took place in Canada, in a community where they were living at the time of the event and that resulted in a severe disruption to their daily activities. Respondents could provide as many responses as were applicable.
Source:
Statistics Canada, Survey of Emergency Preparedness and Resilience in Canada, 2014.

Property or financial losses experienced by about one in three individuals affected by disasters

The SEPR asked people about three broad categories of serious or long-term impacts including financial, physical or health-related, and emotional or psychological consequences. Of all Canadians in the provinces who experienced a major emergency, about one in three (32%) suffered some type of financial impact or property loss and about one in ten (8%) endured long-term emotional or psychological after-effects. Major physical injuries or other health impacts were least common, experienced by 3% of those affected by major emergencies.

Nearly one-third of individuals affected by winter storms experienced a need to evacuate their homes

Results from the 2014 SEPR revealed that certain impacts were more commonly associated with the particular type of emergency experienced. Having to evacuate one’s home (69%) was most common among victims of an industrial or transportation accident, experienced by more than two-thirds of individuals affected by this type of emergency (Table 2). Of note, needing to evacuate was less common among those affected by the most frequently experienced disasters in Canada, namely winter storms (35%), floods (26%) and extended power outages (20%). An inability to use roads or transportation within the community was most common among flood (48%) and hurricanes (45%) victims.

Canadians who experienced the most common type of emergency, namely winter storms, were most commonly impacted by missing work or school (74%). This was followed by being unable to use electrical appliances (63%) and missing appointments or planned activities (57%). Extended power outages, which were the second most common type of emergency experienced, prevented Canadians from using electrical appliances (88%), heating or cooling their home (70%) and more than half were required to boil water or drink bottled water (55%).

Family and neighbours were key sources of help during and following an emergency

SEPR findings support previous research which indicates that after an emergency, most help comes from ordinary citizens such as family, friends and neighbours (Uscher-Pines et al. 2012; Helsloot and Ruitenberg 2004; Tierney et al. 2001). More than half (56%) of those who had faced a major emergency or disaster indicated that they had received information or assistance from someone during or immediately following the emergency, and in these instances family members (37%) and neighbours (24%) were the most common sources of assistance (Table 3). Canadians affected by major emergencies less often turned to formal sources of assistance such as local government services (15%), first responders (i.e. paramedics and firefighters) (9%) or police (9%). The SEPR also found that more than half (59%) of those with previous disaster experience were themselves asked to assist someone else during the emergency, and most (91%) were able to provide the assistance.

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How Canadians view their neighbourhoodNote 7

According to SEPR, nearly a quarter (24%) of persons affected by a major emergency turned to neighbours for help either during or immediately following the emergency. When asked about their neighbourhood helpfulness, Canadians who knew at least some people living in their neighbourhood characterized their neighbourhood as a place where neighbours help each other (86%). Among those who did not describe their neighbourhood as generally helpful, still 77% believed their neighbours would help out in the event of an emergency.Note 8, Note 9

Although most Canadians (92%) reported knowing at least a few people in their neighbourhood, factors such as age, household income, immigrant status and health-related limitations were related to whether or not people knew any of their neighbours. Younger people, for instance, were more likely to report not knowing any of their neighbours (8% of those aged 15 to 24 and 9% of those aged 25 to 34, versus about 4% of those aged 35 and over).

Perhaps related to the fact that they had been in Canada for less time, the proportion of recent immigrants (arrived in Canada between 2004 and 2014) (14%E)Note 10 who did not know any of their neighbours was nearly three times that of more established immigrants who had arrived in Canada prior to 2004 (5%) and people born in Canada (5%).

Individuals with certain long-term health conditions were less likely to know their neighbours. More than one in ten (13%E) individuals with a long-term psychological, emotional or mental health condition that limits their daily activities reported not knowing any of their neighbours. This figure was more than double that for individuals who did not experience such health limitations (5%).

In terms of household income, individuals from households with lower earnings were more likely to not know any of their neighbours than those from higher-income households. While 9% of those from households earning less than $40,000 annually reported that they did not know anyone in their neighbourhood, the corresponding proportion for those with annual household earnings of $40,000 or more was just 5%.

People living in Canada’s census metropolitan areas (CMAs)Note 11 were less likely to describe their neighbours as generally helpful compared to non-CMA dwellers (85% versus 90%, respectively).Note 8 Additionally, when asked more specifically about their neighbours’ likelihood to help out in an emergency, people living in CMAs (75%)Note 12 were still less likely than people living in non-CMAs (82%)Note 13 to describe their neighbourhood as a place where neighbours would help each other in an emergency.

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A key step in the recovery process following a major emergency is returning to regular daily activities. Overall, most (85%) people who had experienced a major emergency or disaster were able to return to their regular routines within two weeks (18% within 24 hours, 23% within one-to-two days, 22% within three-to-five days, 11% within six-to-seven days and 10% needed between one-to-two weeks to get back to their daily routines). Still, about one in seven (14%) took more than 2 weeks to return to their normal daily activities.

One in four people who suffered emotional or psychological impacts required more than a year to recover

Findings from the SEPR indicate that most people (91%) who had suffered loss of property or financial impacts as a result of a disaster had fully recovered within one year of the event, while a further 6% required more than a year to recover from this type of impact. Less than half (45%) of individuals affected by disasters and who experienced emotional or psychological impacts, recovered within a year; however, for nearly a quarter (23%) the recovery time exceeded one year.Note 14, Note 15

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A closer look at floods, winter storms and extended power outages

A closer examination of the three most commonly experienced emergencies—winter storms, power outages and floods—reveals that each type of emergency is associated with its own set of impacts and outcomes.

Floods

  • Overall, nearly three-quarters (71%) of those who had experienced a major flood resumed their regular routines within two weeks of the event.
  • Two in five flood victims (40%) reported property losses or serious financial effects as a result of the emergency, 3%E experienced physical injuries or other serious health consequences and 12% experienced long-term emotional or psychological consequences.
  • The majority of flood victims were able to make a full recovery from financial losses (83%) within a year of the event.

Winter storms

  • The vast majority (81%) of individuals affected by winter storms were back to their regular daily routine within a two-week period.
  • Overall, persons affected by winter storms did not stand out from people affected by other major emergencies or disasters in terms of the types of serious and long-term impacts they tended to experience or in their rates of recovery.

Extended power outages

  • While people who had experienced an extended power outage of 24 hours or longer were likely to experience impacts directly related to the loss of electrical power, they also often encountered difficulties with their drinking water (55%) and water used to perform routine tasks (50%).
  • One-third (34%) of those who experienced extended power outages were able to resume their regular daily activities within 24 hours and nearly one-third (31%) within one-to-two days of the event. Within one week of the power outage, 94% of people were back to their regular activities.
  • Nearly one in three people who experienced an extended power outage (30%) faced serious financial impacts as a consequence; most (97%) were able to recover within a year of the event.
  • Long-term emotional and psychological consequences were rarely reported among those who experienced extended power outages.

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Socio-demographic factors impact how Canadians experience major emergencies

Of the more than 9 million Canadians across the provinces who experienced a major emergency or disaster in their own community that had disrupted their daily activities, 29% or 2.6 million experienced this event within the 12 months preceding the 2014 SEPR. Narrowing the focus to look at only those who had experienced a major emergency or disaster within the 12 months leading up to the 2014 SEPR, a socio-demographic profile of individuals who recently experienced an emergency can be developed. Examining characteristics such as age group, marital status, household income and household size, in conjunction with the impacts of the emergency, may help identify at-risk populations among emergency victims.Note 16

Differences by marital status in the recovery time from serious financial impacts were observed

One in four Canadians who experienced a major emergency or disaster in the year preceding the survey suffered financial impacts or loss of property (27%). Emotional or psychological consequences (7%E) and major physical injuries or health consequences (3%E) were not commonly experienced by Canadians who were affected by a major emergency in the past year. Overall, nearly half (49%) of Canadians who suffered a financial impact or loss of property following a major emergency in the year leading up to the survey were fully recovered within one week of the event. However, some differences in recovery-time based on marital status were found. For example, two-thirds of single or never married individuals recovered from financial consequences within a week (62%), whereas only about one-third of separated or divorced people (34%E) recovered in that time period.Note 17

Seniors as well as individuals from small households evacuated their homes most often

Home evacuation was experienced by a quarter (25%) of people who experienced a major emergency or disaster in the year prior to the SEPR. Seniors aged 65 and over were twice as likely (36%E) to have evacuated due to the emergency they had experienced, compared to those aged 45 to 54 (18%E).

In terms of household size, home evacuation as a result of the emergency was more common among those from one- or two-member households (32%) than larger households (22%) of three or more members.Note 18, Note 19

Youth and young adults and seniors were more likely to have received help

Half (50%) of those who experienced a major emergency or disaster within the 12-month period prior to the SEPR received help during or immediately following the event, most often from family (37%), neighbours (24%) and local or municipal governments (18%E). When socio-demographic characteristics were taken into consideration, some differences based on age in who was more likely to receive help were observed.

Youth and young adults aged 15 to 24 (64%) and seniors 65 years of age or older (60%) were more likely to have received help during or immediately after an emergency, compared to individuals aged 45 to 54 (38%) and those aged 55 to 64 (35%) who were the least likely to have received help.Note 20

Summary

Results from the 2014 Survey of Emergency Preparedness and Resilience (SEPR) indicate that the type of impact a major emergency or disaster has on an individual’s daily life depends on the type of emergency experienced. Nearly one-third (31%) of Canadians living in the provinces have had to endure a major emergency or disaster during their lifetime in their community that was significant enough to severely disrupt their regular daily routine. Generally, winter storms (46%), extended power outages (36%) and floods (12%) were the most commonly reported emergencies experienced by Canadians.

Although less common, financial repercussions (32%), psychological and emotional consequences (8%) and major health effects (3%) were some of the serious or long-term impacts experienced by victims of major emergencies or disasters. While financial implications or property losses were the most common of these consequences, recovery time from financial impacts was shorter than for other consequences related to psychological well-being. However, Canadians who had faced a major emergency or disaster experienced this latter implication less frequently than financial impacts.

Other more commonly experienced but less disruptive impacts included an inability to use electrical appliances (63%), absence from work or school (61%) and having to miss planned activities (52%). Meanwhile, three in ten (29%) people affected by an emergency had to take the difficult step of evacuating their homes.

The results from the SEPR also show that over half (56%) of Canadians who had experienced a major emergency received help from others, either during or immediately following the emergency. Additionally, about six in ten (59%) emergency or disaster victims were themselves asked for help, and most were able to provide it. Family, neighbours and friends were usually the ones who gave and received help.

Survey description

This report is based on the Survey of Emergency Preparedness and Resilience in Canada (SEPR). The SEPR is a new survey that was conducted by Statistics Canada for the first time from January to June 2014. Developed in partnership with Defence Research and Development Canada’s Centre for Security Science and Public Safety Canada, and in consultation with experts in the field of emergency management and community resilience, the purpose of the SEPR is to improve the understanding of community resilience across Canada’s provinces. Data were collected on factors that affect how well individuals and communities are able to prepare for, prevent, respond to and recover from major emergencies or disasters. The main objective of the survey is to provide estimates of emergency preparedness and resilience at the community, provincial and national levels.

Survey methodology

The target population for the SEPR included all persons 15 years of age or older, residing in Canada’s 10 provinces, excluding full-time residents of institutions. This voluntary survey was conducted via the telephone, using a Computer-Assisted Telephone Interviewing (CATI) system. Therefore, persons living in households without telephone service (approximately 1%), were also excluded. One individual per household, 15 years of age or older was randomly selected to complete the survey. The overall response rate for the SEPR was 53%. The sample size for the SEPR was 72,953 with a total of 32,171 completed surveys. Respondents in the sample were weighted so that their responses represent the non-institutionalized Canadian population aged 15 years or over, in the 10 provinces.

Data limitations

Data for the SEPR were collected only from Canadians living in the 10 provinces, and therefore, results are not representative of the Canadian territories. However, a separate feasibility study was undertaken in 2014 to help determine the appropriate content and best method of collecting information on emergency preparedness and community resilience the territories. The SEPR also does not include Canadians who do not have a working telephone, or full-time residents of institutions. In addition, certain populations which may be considered vulnerable or in greater need of support in emergency or disaster situations, are not included. Such populations include the homeless, residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

The SEPR is a sample survey. Consequently, due to the nature of sampling surveys, the results produced are subject to sampling error. Somewhat different results might have been obtained if the entire population had been surveyed. This report uses the coefficient of variation (CV) as a measure of the sampling error. Any estimate that has a high CV (over 33.3%) has not been published because the estimate is too unreliable. In these cases, the symbol 'F' is used in place of an estimate in the figures and data tables. An estimate that has a CV between 16.6% and 33.3% should be used with caution and the symbol 'E' is referenced with the estimate. Where descriptive statistics and cross-tabular analysis were used, statistically significant differences were determined using hypothesis tests with a 5% significance level (i.e. the probability of incorrectly concluding that the estimates are different is at most 5%).

Detailed data tables

Table 1 Canadians who have experienced major emergencies or disasters, by type of event, Canada, 2014

Table 2 Type of impact, by selected major emergencies and disasters experienced, Canada, 2014

Table 3 Initial sources of help and information during or immediately following an emergency, by most common events experienced by Canadians, Canada, 2014

References

Helsloot, I. and A. Ruitenberg. 2004. “Citizen response to disasters: A survey of literature and some practical implications.” Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management. Vol. 12, no. 3. p. 98-111.

Taylor-Butts, A. 2015. “Emergency preparedness in Canada, 2014.” Juristat. Statistics Canada catalogue no. 85-002-X.

Tierney, K.J., M.K. Lindell and R.W. Perry. 2001. Facing the Unexpected: Disaster Preparedness and Response in the United States. Washington, D.C. Joseph Henry Press.

Uscher-Pines, L., A. Chandra, J. Acosta and A. Kellermann. 2012. “Citizen preparedness for disasters: Are current assumptions valid?” Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness. Vol. 6, no. 2. p. 170-173.

Notes

Euse with caution

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