Emergency Planning for Condos

November 2014

Extreme weather events seem to occur more frequently and with greater severity. In 2013 there was a record breaking rain storm followed by an ice storm. Both extreme weather events resulted in loss of power to large areas of the city for periods ranging from hours to days.

The rain storm on July 7, 2013 dropped an entire month’s rain in one day.

The December 21, 2013 ice storm produced 30 mm of freezing rain over two days. Over half of Toronto Hydro customers lost power. It took eleven days to restore power to more than 1 million people.

It is not possible to predict what future extreme weather events can be expected but more are likely.

Residents of high-rise buildings such as condos are at risk. When elevators cease to operate many are incapable of using stairs. They become trapped in their suite without heat or light. As time passes water and food become a problem. Without functioning elevators, there is no way for these individuals to fend for themselves during a crisis.

Individuals at greatest risk are seniors and those with limited mobility.

City water pressure is usually adequate to serve those who live on the first ten floors. Higher floors require electricity in order to receive water.

In the event of a power outage, many condos have emergency generators that serve to provide critical life safety systems. These may include access to one elevator and minimal lighting. A generator will continue to operate until its fuel source is depleted. Most generators can operate for a period ranging from a couple of hours to a couple of days. Requiring a generator to support more than basic life safety systems is possible but only by reducing operational time. Until such time as the emergency period has passed, and possibly for an extended period beyond the emergency, service or fuel for a generator is likely unobtainable.

City priorities will likely be focused on hospitals, retirement homes and emergency services. Condo high-rise buildings are unlikely to receive assistance on a priority basis.

The Ontario Building Code relating to emergency power supply in buildings attempts to ensure that building occupants can exit in the event of a fire emergency. In practice this is limited to keeping some lights on and perhaps an elevator. An independent panel, put together to review Toronto Hydro’s response to the ice storm, recommended that the building code be revised to providing emergency power for “essential needs” of the building’s occupants. The report from this panel does not define “essential needs”, how to provide the additional power or its cost. Click here to review the complete report.

Sustained use generators are not in general use. They can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in addition to ongoing maintenance. Given the infrequency of emergency situations, condo owners are likely to view an additional $50 per month or more for this form of insurance to be impractical. Should such an investment be made it is entirely possible that the equipment could go unused for years, possibly decades, and abandoned before needed.

Technology can play only a limited role in preparing for emergencies. When an emergency occurs, it becomes necessary for those who are capable to assist those who require assistance. This is where a condo community can excel but only if it plans for emergencies.

  • Ensure mechanical systems are operating at peak level.
  • Educate residents about how to survive without power and water for a few days.
  • Create a list of residents incapable of managing stairs including name, phone number and unit number.
  • Identify necessary emergency supplies and rations. This may include flashlights and batteries for emergency responders. For at-risk residents the list may include a couple of water bottles and energy bars.
  • When an emergency situation occurs, have emergency responders stock up on emergency supplies and rations. Check up on each at-risk resident twice a day during the course of an emergency situation. Provide at-risk residents with water and food, if possible, to help out until next check in.

Individuals can also prepare for a prolonged power outage. Preparations should include;

  • Hand crank or battery powered flashlight with fresh batteries.
  • Blankets and/or sweaters for warmth.
  • At least one dozen personal sized bottles of water.
  • Non-perishable food – cans or boxes that do not require refrigeration.
  • Manual can opener.

Thank you to Rodeo Walk Condo Board President Marvin Kay and Holland Marshall of CondoMadness for assisting with this article.