Sounding the alarm in West Hill and East Scarborough

For a period of two minutes on Oct. 1, in an industrial area of West Hill emergency sirens blared. But there was no danger to the public. It was just a test by Toronto East Community Awareness and Emergency Response.

The sirens operated by Toronto East CAER, an association of chemical manufactures and local emergency services,  could be heard from a distance of one kilometre.

“I was walking my dog and heard what sounded like one of the sirens when a bomb is going to be dropped,” said one Scarborough resident. “It didn’t last long, so I did not really think anything of it.”

Tips to prepare you and your family in case of an emergency

To give authorities enough time to reach those most in need, it is recommended that individuals have enough bottled water, non-perishable food and medical supplies to last the first 72 hours of an emergency.

Do you know what to do in case of an emergency? Are you and your family perpared if help takes a while to come? These tips from Toronto East Community Awareness and Emergency Response (CAER) will help you get ready for that moment, if it ever comes.

In case of a chemical emergency that causes the CAER Siren System to be activated:

If you hear the broken “Whoop, Whoop” sound, CAER recommends you shelter in place:

1. Go inside.
2. Close all windows and doors.
3. Turn off air intake/exhaust mechanisms (fans, furnaces, air conditioning).
4. Stay tuned to news radio or television stations for information and instructions.

If you witness/detect what you believe to be a chemical emergency situation, take the following steps:

1. Move inside your home.
2. Call 911 and provide the operator with the exact location and nature of the emergency.

If the siren system is used, an all-clear monotone sound will be heard and an announcement will be made by municipal officials on your local radio or TV station.

More information on what to do in an emergency can be found on the Toronto East CAER’s website.

With files from Toronro East CAER

The purpose of the sirens is to provide advance warning, should there be an incident at any local chemical manufacturers, requiring residents to either seek shelter or evacuate the area.

During a recent CP24 phone-in talk show, Mayor David Miller was asked by a caller why are there no early warning systems in Toronto to warn citizens of natural or man-made disasters. The caller spoke of the tornado in Vaughan this summer.

Miller said there is some work being done in the east end of Toronto, but that there are better ways to inform the public than the traditional air-raid sirens of the past.

Rob Tavener of the City of Toronto Office of Emergency Management agrees with Miller and said his office is looking into other forms of technology to better serve Torontonians.

Tavener said people are familiar with the use of sirens as a form of early warning due to their history with air raids, potential bombings, and dangerous weather. In some areas, like the U.S. mid-west, a siren is recognized as a tornado warning, but how can it be understood in a city like Toronto?

Like the resident who was walking their dog, Shawn Melancon, who works as a chemist at a plant only yards away from one of the sirens near Coronation Dr. and Manse Rd., says he also heard the alarm with no knowledge of what it stood for.

The OEM is also looking into other forms of technology to keep Torontonians in the loop.

“We have to think about this in a really modern way,” Miller said. “We have to have a modern way of communicating, for an example, a tornado warning from Environment Canada to be sent to cell phones which reaches 90% of us who do have phones and can be passed on to the remaining 10%.”

The city is also looking into the use of web applications like Listserve that would send out a mass email to a list of subscribers, Tavener said.

“There is no one best way to warn Torontonians,” Tavener said.

Torontonians regularly face severe thunder and electrical storms that can spawn tornadoes. There is also the threat of severe flooding, as well as snow and ice storms.

Man-made threats also exist with the possibility of large industrial fires such as the Sunrise explosion last summer, chemical spills, and the possible threat from Toronto’s proximity to Pickering’s nuclear power plant.