What types of disasters are likely in Guelph?

Hazardous materials release from fixed and mobile sites and severe weather events are the most likely events. The following is a brief list of types of hazards we could face in Guelph – along with hazard-specific information on how to best respond to each situation.

Hazardous material incidents

Hazardous materials are substances that, because of their chemical nature, pose a potential risk to life, health, environment and property if they are released.

Hazardous materials are part of our everyday lives – everything from chemicals used in industry to household cleansers can be hazardous if not handled in a safe manner. Hazardous materials are sometimes accidentally released during manufacturing, storage or transportation, such as during a train derailment. Here are some things to consider when there is a chemical release.

Preparing for potential hazardous material incidents

  • Stay tuned to local radio (CJOY 1460 AM or Magic 106.1 FM), television or social media for emergency warnings
  • Determine how close you are to highways, railways, pipelines and factories where toxic materials are produced or transported
  • Have materials available to seal off your home from airborne contamination. A kit should include: duct tape, plastic garbage bags, a mask and rubber gloves.

When a hazardous spill occurs

  • Get your emergency kit and make sure the radio is working
  • Stay tuned to local radio (CJOY 1460 AM or Magic 106.1 FM), television or social media for emergency instructions
  • Stay away from the incident site – what you can’t see or smell can still harm you
  • Close all windows and doors
  • Turn off all fans, heating and air conditioning systems which bring in outside air
  • Close the fireplace damper
  • Using duct tape or other wide tape, seal all cracks around the door and any vents into the room
  • Cover windows, outlets and heat registers with plastic garbage bags, seal with tape
  • If you are told there is danger of an explosion, close the window shades, blinds or curtains
  • Go to an interior room that’s above ground level (if possible one without windows). In the case of a chemical threat, an above-ground location is preferable because some chemicals are heavier than air, and may seep into basements even if the windows are closed.
  • If you are outside, stay upstream, uphill or upwind of the incident site
  • If you are in your vehicle, close all windows and vents, and shut off the air conditioner or heater
  • Continue to monitor your radio until you are told all is safe or advised to evacuate. City officials may later call for the evacuation of specific areas in your community that are at greatest risk. Emergency responders will advise when it is safe to leave the premise.
  • Be prepared to evacuate quickly if instructed to do so by local authorities

You may be exposed to harmful chemicals even though you may not see or smell anything unusual. You can be exposed to a chemical in three ways:

  1. Inhaling the chemical
  2. Ingesting the chemical by swallowing contaminated food, water or medication
  3. Touching the chemical, or touching clothing or other items that have come into contact with the chemical

After the spill

  • Do not eat or drink any food or water that may have been contaminated
  • Keep track of things like breathing and heart rate, perspiration, dizziness, skin tone, deliriousness, if you think you may have been exposed to a chemical substance. Seek medical help for unusual symptoms.
  • Report any strange smells or other hazards to 9-1-1

Severe weather conditions

Severe weather can occur any time of the year. Make it a habit to listen to the local radio (CJOY 1460 AM or Magic 106.1 FM), television stations (The Weather Network) or social media for severe weather warnings and advice. Make sure you have a battery-powered or hand-crank radio on hand; electricity frequently fails during a severe storm.


A thunderstorm develops in an unstable atmosphere when warm, moist air near the earth’s surface rises quickly and cools. The moisture condenses to form rain droplets and dark thunderclouds called cumulonimbus clouds. These storms are often accompanied by high winds, hail, lightning, heavy rain and tornadoes. Thunderstorms are usually over within an hour, although a series of thunderstorms can last for several hours.


The air is charged with electricity during a thunderstorm. The most striking sign of this is lightning. Bolts of lightning hit the ground at about 40,000 kilometres per second – so fast that the lightning appears to be a single main bolt with a few forks, when actually the opposite is true. The main bolt is a whole series of lightning strikes, all taking the same path but at such a pace that the eye cannot distinguish between them.

When to take shelter during lightning

To estimate how far away the lightning is, count the seconds between the flash of lightning and the thunderclap. Each second is about 300 metres. If you count:

  • fewer than 30 seconds: look around for shelter
  • fewer than 5 seconds: take shelter immediately

It is recommended to wait 30 minutes after the last lightning strike in a severe storm before venturing outside again.

Winter storms

On average, the storms and cold of winter kill more than 100 Canadians every year, more than the total number of people killed by hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, lightning and extreme heat combined. The most common types of winter storms cause freezing rain, heavy snow, blowing snow and blizzards.

Freezing rain

Freezing rain occurs when an upper air layer has an above-freezing temperature while the temperature at the surface is below freezing. The snow that falls melts in the warmer layer and as a result, it is rain – not snow – that lands on the surface. But since the temperature is below 0°C, raindrops freeze on contact and turn into a smooth layer of ice spreading on the ground or any other object like trees or power lines. More slippery than snow, freezing rain is tough and clings to everything it touches. A little freezing rain is dangerous, a lot can be catastrophic.

Preparing for severe storms

  • Stay tuned to local radio (CJOY 1460 AM or Magic 106.1 FM), social media and television stations (The Weather Network) for weather watches, warnings and advisories
  • Stay indoors and avoid travel if possible
  • Close windows and doors. Secure objects outside your home (e.g., patio furniture, garbage cans).
  • Turn off unnecessary electrical appliances

Winter home maintenance

Most new natural gas appliances have plastic vents for their exhaust and air intakes. These vents terminate at the side of most home, at least 12” above the ground. During excessive snow falls, these vents may become buried in snow. If the vents are blocked by snow, the appliances are designed to shut down for safety. Home owners should check these vents and remove the snow as required.

During a severe storm


  • Stay away from windows, doors and fireplaces
  • During thunderstorms, you should also stay away from items that conduct electricity, such as telephones, appliances, sinks, bathtubs, radiators and metal pipes
  • You can use a cellular telephone during a severe storm, but it’s not safe to use a land-line telephone
  • You may want to go to the sheltered area that you and your family chose for your emergency plan
  • If you are advised by officials to evacuate, do so. Take your emergency kit with you.


  • If you are outdoors when a thunderstorm hits, take shelter immediately, preferably in a building but, failing this, in a depressed area such as a ditch or a culvert, but never under a tree.
  • If you are caught in the open, do not lie flat but crouch down with your feet close together and your head down (the “leap-frog” position)
  • Do not ride bicycles, motorcycles, tractors, golf carts or use metal shovels or golf clubs because they may conduct electricity
  • Never go out in a boat during a storm. If you are on the water and you see bad weather approaching, head for shore immediately.
  • Ice from freezing rain accumulates on branches, power lines and buildings. If you must go outside when a significant amount of ice has accumulated, pay attention to branches or wires that could break due to the weight of the ice and fall on you. Ice sheets could also do the same.
  • Never touch power lines: a hanging power line could be charged (live) and you would run the risk of electrocution. Remember also that ice, branches or power lines can continue to break and fall for several hours after the end of the precipitation.

In a car

  • Stop the car (away from trees or power lines that might fall on you) and stay there
  • If you must travel during a winter storm, do so during the day and let someone know your route and arrival time
  • Avoid driving when freezing rain is forecast. Even a small amount of freezing rain can make roads extremely slippery. Wait several hours after freezing rain ends so that road maintenance crews have enough time to spread sand or salt on icy roads.
  • If your car gets stuck in a snowstorm, remain calm and stay in your car. Allow fresh air in your car by opening the window slightly on the sheltered side – away from the wind. You can run the car engine about 10 minutes every half-hour if the exhaust system is working well. Beware of exhaust fumes and check the exhaust pipe periodically to make sure it is not blocked with snow. Remember: you can’t smell potentially fatal carbon monoxide fumes.
  • To keep your hands and feet warm, exercise them periodically. In general, it is a good idea to keep moving to avoid falling asleep.


Tornadoes are violent windstorms characterized by a twisting, funnel-shaped cloud. Tornadoes usually move over the ground at anywhere from 20 to 90 kilometres per hour and often travel from the southwest to the northeast. It is not a good idea to chase tornadoes – they are unpredictable and can change course abruptly.

Tornadoes form suddenly, often preceded by warm, humid weather. May to September are prime tornado months in Canada. Tornadoes usually hit in the afternoon and early evening, but they have been known to strike at night too.

Warning signs of a potential tornado

Warning signs include:

  • Severe thunderstorms, with frequent thunder and lightning
  • An extremely dark sky, sometimes highlighted by green or yellow clouds
  • A rumbling sound, such as a freight train might make, or a whistling sound such as a jet aircraft might make. A funnel cloud at the rear base of a thundercloud, often behind a curtain of heavy rain or hail.

As a rule, when Environment Canada issues a tornado warning, radio and television stations broadcast it immediately. If you hear that a tornado warning has been issued for your area, take cover immediately.

  • A tornado watch means that the conditions are right for a tornado. This is a “watch” only. Stay cautious and listen to your radio.
  • A tornado warning means that a tornado has touched down. Take precautions immediately and listen to your radio for updates.

Preparing for a tornado

  • Have a shelter area picked out. Store your survival kit here.
  • Shelter should be easily accessible and offer protection from flying glass, debris and furniture
  • Shelters should be located near the basement wall in the most sheltered and deepest part of the basement. If no basement is available take cover in the smallest room or under heavy furniture. Avoid large halls, auditoriums, cafeterias, arenas or any building with large roof spans. Seek an inner hallway, washroom or closet.
  • Abandon trailers or mobile homes in favour of a pre-selected shelter

What to do during a tornado

If you are in a house:

  • Get your emergency kit and make sure the radio is working
  • Go to the basement or take shelter in a small interior ground floor room such as a bathroom, closet or hallway
  • Failing that, protect yourself by taking shelter under a heavy table
    or desk
  • In all cases, stay away from windows, outside walls and doors

If you are in an office or apartment building:

  • Take shelter in an inner hallway or room, ideally in the basement or on the ground floor
  • Failing that, protect yourself by taking shelter under a heavy table
    or desk
  • Do not use the elevator and stay away from windows

If you are outdoors or in a vehicle:

  • Avoid buildings such as gymnasiums, churches and auditoriums with wide-span roofs
  • Avoid cars and mobile homes. Take shelter elsewhere, preferably in a building with a strong foundation. If no shelter is available, lie down in a ditch away from the car or mobile home.
  • If you are driving and spot a tornado in the distance, try to get to a nearby shelter. If the tornado is close, get out of your car and take cover in a low-lying area.
  • In all cases, get as close to the ground as possible, protect your head and watch for flying debris
  • Keep in mind that if a tornado is heading straight for you, it may appear to be standing still

After the tornado

If your home or family is affected by the tornado, you should:

  • Monitor local media reports for advice and to find out what assistance is available
  • Check for gas leaks in your home. If you smell gas leave your house immediately and call 9-1-1.
  • Check for blown fuses and look for short-circuits in your wiring and equipment
  • Drive carefully and watch for debris, damaged roads and fallen wires
  • Notify your insurance company of any property damage

Preparing for a flood

A heavy rainfall can result in flooding, particularly when the ground is still frozen or already saturated from previous storms. Floods may also result if heavy rain coincides with the spring thaw.

To reduce the likelihood of flood damage:

  • Put weather protection sealant around basement windows and the base of ground-level doors
  • Install the drainage for downspouts a sufficient distance from your residence to ensure that water moves away from the building
  • Consider installing a sump pump and zero reverse flow valves in basement floor drains

If a flood is forecast:

  • Turn off basement furnaces and, if instructed, the outside gas valve
  • Take special precautions to safeguard electrical, natural gas or propane heating equipment
  • If there is enough time, consult your supplier for instructions on how to proceed

When there is immediate danger of flooding:

  • Shut off the electricity
  • If the area around the fuse box or circuit breaker is wet, stand on a dry board and shut off the power with a dry wooden stick
  • Try to move furniture, electrical appliances and other belongings to floors above ground level
  • Remove toxic substances such as pesticides and insecticides from the flood area to prevent pollution
  • Remove toilet bowls and plug basement sewer drains and toilet connections with a wooden stopper
  • Disconnect eavestroughs if they are connected to the house sewer
  • In some cases, homes may be protected with sandbags or polyethylene barriers. This approach requires specific instructions from your local emergency officials.

During a flood

  • Keep your radio on to find out what areas are affected, as well as what roads are safe, where to go and what to do if the local emergency team asks you to leave your home.
  • Have your emergency kit close at hand

After a flood

If your home has been impacted by a flood, it is important to restore your home to good order as soon as possible to protect your health and prevent further damage to the house and its contents.

Before moving back in

Once the flood waters have receded, you must not live in your house until:

  • The regular water supply has been inspected and officially declared safe for use
  • Every flood-contaminated room has been thoroughly cleaned, disinfected and surface-dried
  • All contaminated dishes and utensils have been thoroughly washed and disinfected – either by using boiling water or by using a sterilizing solution of one part chlorine bleach to 10 parts water. Rinse dishes and utensils thoroughly.
  • Adequate toilet facilities are available

If your natural gas appliances have been submerged for any length of time, the equipment should not be turned on until a qualified technician has inspected the appliances for safety. Components of the equipment may have to be replaced because they were under water.

Power failure

Power supply interruptions can last from a few hours to several days and are often caused by freezing rain, sleet and/or high winds which damage power lines and equipment. An extended power failure during winter months can result in a cold, dark home and damage to walls, floors and plumbing.

Preparing for power failures

Most home-heating systems depend upon electric power. To prepare for a power failure, you can install a non-electric standby stove or heater. Choose heating units that do not depend upon an electric motor, fan or other electrical device to function.

Safety tip: If a power surge occurs when the power returns, it could damage sensitive electronic equipment. Protecting these appliances with a surge-proof power bar is a smart and inexpensive precaution.

During a power failure

  • Turn off all appliances, tools and electronic equipment and turn your home heating down to minimum
  • Get out your emergency kit and flashlight. Be careful using candles – they can create a fire hazard.
  • Turn on a battery-powered or hand-crank radio to find out what is happening in your area
  • Follow the directions of emergency authorities
  • Report power failures to Guelph Hydro at 519-822-3010 (Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.) or519-822-3014 (After hours, weekends and holidays)
  • Don’t use charcoal or gas barbecues, camping heating equipment or home generators indoors. They give off carbon monoxide.
  • Don’t open your freezer or refrigerator unless it is absolutely necessary. If a freezer door has been kept closed, food should stay frozen for 24 to 36 hours, depending on the temperature. A refrigerator will keep food cool for four to six hours without power.
  • Throw out any food items with a strange smell or colour. If perishable food has been at room temperature for more than four hours, don’t eat it.
  • Do not eat any food you think may be unsafe. A good rule when dealing with food is when in doubt, throw it out
  • Most natural gas furnaces and water heaters need electricity to function. If the hydro is out most gas appliances will not work.
  • Most gas fireplaces are designed to provide radiant heat during a power outage. They can function with or without an electric circulation fan.

If you have to evacuate during a storm:

  • Turn off the main breaker or switch of the circuit-breaker panel or power-supply box
  • Turn off the water main where it enters the house. Protect the valve, inlet pipe and meter or pump with blankets or insulation material.
  • Watch for downed power lines. Call your electric supply authority with the exact location of the downed line.
  • Keep back a minimum of 10 metres (33 feet) from wires or anything in contact with them and warn others of the danger
  • Always assume that the lines are live. It is difficult to distinguish between power lines and other utility lines (for example, telephone or cable lines) and they also carry sufficient power to cause harm. Treat all lines as a danger.

After the power returns

  • If the main electric switch was turned off, check to ensure appliances are unplugged to prevent damage from a power surge when the power is restored
  • Do not enter a flooded basement unless you are sure the power is disconnected
  • Do not use flood-damaged appliances, electrical outlets, switch boxes or fuse-breaker panels until they have been checked and cleaned by a qualified technician
  • Switch on the main electric supply
  • Give the electrical system a chance to stabilize before reconnecting appliances. Turn the heating system thermostats up first, followed in a couple of minutes by re-connection of the refrigerator and freezer. Wait 10 to 15 minutes before reconnecting other appliances.
  • If you had to turn water off and drain the pipes, close the drain valve in the basement. Turn on the water supply. Close the lowest valves and taps first and allow air to escape from upper taps. Make sure that the hot water heater is filled before turning on its power supply. Rinse out the dishwasher and washing machine if necessary.
  • Warm the house slightly above normal temperature for a few hours to allow it to dry thoroughly
  • Monitor food supplies in refrigerators, freezers and cupboards for signs of spoilage

Do you know what to do in case of fire?

The right time to plan how to escape a fire is now – before it is too late. Fires are a leading cause of emergencies in the home. Preparation is your best defence.

Preparing for a fire

  • Install smoke detectors on each floor of your home and test them monthly
  • Everyone in your home should know where to find the fire extinguisher. All capable adults and older children should know how to use it.
  • Know your emergency escape routes and the designated meeting place
  • If you live in an apartment, know where the fire alarms and fire exits are located
  • Hold family fire drills at least every six months so your family can discuss, act out and make necessary changes to the plan
  • Make sure that everyone understands that if they hear the smoke detector, or hear someone shouting “FIRE”, they should immediately evacuate the home and proceed to the designated meeting place

Safety tip

Change the batteries in your smoke alarms at least once a year. A good way to remember is to change your batteries when you change your clocks for Daylight Saving Time.

During a fire

  • Before opening any door as you leave, feel it. If the door is hot – do not open it – use the alternate escape route. If windows in upper storey rooms cannot serve as alternative exits, open the window and shout for help.
  • In a smoke filled area, the air is cooler and clearer by the floor. Drop to your hands and knees and crawl to the nearest safe exit.
  • Stop, drop and roll if your clothing catches fire
  • Go to neighbours and call 9-1-1
  • Go to your meeting place and wait
  • Once outside – stay out – do not re-enter your home for any reason

Safety tip

Always close the door between the fire and the escape window. Always close the door behind you when entering or escaping a room in a fire.

After a fire

The following checklist serves as a quick reference and guide for you to follow after a fire strikes.

  • Contact your local disaster relief service. Guelph-Wellington Red Cross (519-836-3523) can help you find temporary housing, food, clothing and other essential needs. Victim Services Wellington (519-824-1212) provides emotional support and practical assistance and referral information to victims.
  • If you are insured, contact your insurance company for detailed instructions on protecting the property, conducting inventory and contacting fire damage restoration companies. If you are not insured, try contacting private organizations for aid and assistance.
  • Check with the fire department to make sure your residence is safe to enter. Be watchful of any structural damage caused by the fire.
  • The fire department, with assistance from the Fire Prevention Department and the utility companies, should see that utilities are either safe to use or are disconnected before they leave the site. DO NOT attempt to reconnect utilities yourself.
  • Conduct an inventory of damaged property and items. Do not throw away any damaged goods until after an inventory is made and received by your insurance company. Only throw items away that you are sure cannot be salvaged.
  • Begin saving receipts for any money you spend related to fire loss. The receipts may be needed later by the insurance company and for verifying losses claimed on income tax.
  • Notify your mortgage bank of the fire