Severe Weather - Keeping You Healthy and Safe

Last revised: April 6, 2023

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Ottawa Public Health, the City of Ottawa, and its community partners want to keep you healthy and safe in the event of severe weather.

Below are some links to mental health, food safety, and physical safety resources:

Mental health resources 

The psychological impact of a stressful event can be immediate or delayed, and those affected directly or indirectly can feel a range of emotions and reactions. 

In the wake of stressful events our reactions can affect us physically or emotionally. It can have an impact on our thinking.

After an emergency or disaster, people may feel dazed or even numb. They may also feel sad, helpless, or anxious. In spite of the tragedy, some people just feel happy to be alive. It is not unusual to have bad memories or dreams. You may find that you avoid places or people that remind you of the disaster. You might have trouble sleeping, eating, or paying attention. Many people have short tempers and get angry easily. You may have strong feelings right away. Or you may not notice a change until much later, after the crisis is over. Stress can change how you act with your friends and family.

These are completely normal reactions to stress and it may take time before you feel better and life returns to normal. Give yourself time to heal.

Things you can do

Focus on what needs to happen today and what can wait until tomorrow. Try to:

  • Follow a normal routine as much as possible.
  • Eat healthy meals. Be careful not to skip meals or to overeat.
  • Exercise and stay active.
  • Help other people in your community as a volunteer. Stay busy.
  • Accept help from family, friends, co-workers, or clergy. Talk about your feelings with them.
  • Limit your time around the sights and sounds of what happened. Don't dwell on TV, radio, or newspaper reports on the tragedy.

Online Resources:

When should I get help?
Sometimes we need to get help from a health professional such as a psychologist, family doctor, psychiatrist, social worker, or nurse. Ask for help if you:
  • Can't return to a normal routine.
  • Are not able to take care of yourself or your children.
  • Are not able to do your job.
  • Use alcohol or drugs to get away from your feelings.
  • Feel extremely helpless.
  • Feel sad or depressed for more than two weeks.
  • Think about suicide.
  • Have thoughts about hurting yourself or others.
Where can I get help?
Ottawa residents and families can access mental health resources available in our community: 
  • The Distress Centre answers calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with crisis line specialists providing confidential support. Callers can reach the Centre at 613-238-3311.
  • The Mental Health Crisis Line answers calls for people ages 16 or older 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Callers can reach the line at 613-722-6914. 
  • Tel-Aide Outaouais offers French-language mental health telephone support from 8 a.m. to midnight every day. Ottawa residents can call 613-741-6433 and Gatineau residents can contact 819-775-3223.
  • The Kids Help Phone (1-800-668-6868) provides confidential 24/7 phone and web counselling for children ages 20 and under. 
  • The Youth Services Bureau (YSB) provides youth and family counselling, crisis support, a 24/7 crisis line at 613-260-2360, walk-in counselling, and an online crisis chat service for youth at
  • The Walk-In Counselling Clinics provide free, confidential, single session counseling sessions throughout Ottawa
  • Ottawa Public Health Information at 613-580-6744 (TTY 613-580-9656).
  • 2-1-1 connects callers to community, social, government and health service information in Ottawa 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The service is free, confidential and multilingual.

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Coping with extreme heat at home during a power outage

Keep your home cool

  • Close all blinds and drapes on the sunny side of your home, but keep windows slightly open.
  • Install temporary window reflectors between windows and drapes, such as aluminium foil covered cardboard. This will help reflect heat back outside.

Keep yourself cool

  • Stay out of the sun and spend time on the lowest floor of your home where it is cooler. Spend at least two hours a day in a cool environment to cool your body during extreme heat.
  • Drink plenty of fluids especially water. Avoid alcohol and caffeine. Eat small light meals.
  • Take frequent cool showers or baths.
  • If you cannot shower or bath easily, sponge often with cool wet towels. Focus on cooling the back of the neck, under the arms and groin area. Soak feet and hands in a basin of cool water.
  • Dress in light and loose fitting clothing.
  • Avoid unnecessary strenuous work or activity outside, especially between 10 and 4 p.m. If work must be done, take frequent water breaks in the shade.
  • Talk with your doctor, nurse or pharmacist if you are taking medications or if you are feeling unwell. Some medications make it harder for your body to control its temperature. Make sure to consult with your doctor if you are on a restricted fluid intake.

Stay connected and help others

  • Keep in daily contact with friends and family to let them know how you are feeling. Ask for help if the hot weather is making you feel uncomfortable.
  • Check on family, friends and neighbours who may need help coping with the heat, especially those who live alone. People with physical and mental disabilities will need assistance keeping cool.
  • Never leave people or pets in a parked car, even with the windows open. The temperature will rise dangerously in only a few minutes.

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Food safety for donations

Are you thinking of donating hot meals, fresh sandwiches, or baked goods to families or communities in need? 

Ottawa Public Health wants to help you avoid the risk of food related illness. 

Avoid food poisoning

Food poisoning is a general term used to describe an illness that usually results from eating food or drinking water contaminated by disease causing bacteria (germs) or their toxins (poisons). These bacteria may be naturally present or may enter foods that are improperly handled.

Here are a few examples of food items that are more likely to cause food poisoning if they are not handled properly:

  • Raw or undercooked meats (including poultry), eggs, and fish
  • Cooked and processed meats, poultry, eggs, fish, and rice
  • Gravies, soups, and casseroles
  • Sandwiches and salads containing mayonnaise, meats, and eggs
  • Milk and dairy products

When donating these food items, follow Ottawa Public Health’s “Keeping food safe information” to kill or reduce the number of food poisoning bacteria that may be present in the foods you donate.

I want to prepare a hot meal (e.g. chili) in a slow cooker to share with the community, is this a safe way to prepare the food?
Yes, but only if the meat has reached a safe internal cooking temperature before it is added to the slow cooker. Use a probe thermometer to check the temperature for all foods containing meat, fish, or eggs. For example, ground beef must reach an internal temperature of 71°C and chicken 74°C. (See chart on “Keeping food safe information”)
I want to leave a hot meal at the community centre for people to enjoy but I do not want to leave my slow cooker there, what should I do?
The safest way to serve a hot meal is to keep and transport hot foods at 60°C or higher. Tape your name and phone number to the slow cooker so that you can be contacted once the event is over.
The community centre no longer has room to properly store my cold food items, should I just leave them on the counter?
No. The safest way to store cold food items is at 4°C. Bring your cold food items (e.g. sandwiches or salads) in a cooler with ice. Tape your name and phone number to the cooler so that you can be contacted once the event is over.
If I prepared a home cooked meal (e.g. casseroles, quiche, chicken pot pie, etc.) and left it out on the counter overnight to cool, is it safe to serve?
No. These foods should be thrown out. All of these foods (casseroles, quiche, chicken pot pies) contain potentially hazardous ingredients such as meat or dairy and should therefore not be left at room temperature for more than two hours.
If I had sandwiches/meat pies stored in the refrigerator and they smelled and tasted fine, but I am unsure of their preparation date, can I still serve them?
It is impossible to tell by the taste, smell, or appearance of the food if it contains harmful bacteria. Food poisoning bacteria, unlike spoilage bacteria, do not affect the colour, odour, or taste of foods. Meat pies can be kept safely in the refrigerator at 4°C for up to three (3) days. If you are unsure of how old a prepared dish is, it is best to be cautious and throw it out.

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Food safety during a power outage

Power outages can affect the safety of the food in your freezer and refrigerator. Learn more about what to do with your food after a power outage. Ottawa Public Health's Food safety during a power failure factsheet (pdf - 304 KB)

Frozen Food
  • Discard any thawed hazardous food items that have remained at room temperature for 2 or more hours. When in doubt throw it out!
  • It is best to check frozen food IMMEDIATELY after power is restored to assess temperature. Food will re-freeze otherwise, and may not be safe to consume.
  • Freezing stops the growth of bacteria. A full upright or chest freezer will keep food frozen for up to two days during a power failure. A half-full freezer will keep the food frozen for about one day if the freezer is kept closed.
  • If you know the power will be back on soon, keep the freezer door closed as much as possible to help the food last longer, and put ice in the freezer to help keep it cold.
  • If you know that a power failure will last for a long period of time, transport the food to a friend’s or family member’s freezer if possible. If it is wintertime, you can store the food outside.
  • Discard any thawed food that has remained at room temperature for two or more hours. When in doubt throw it out!
  • Discard any food that has an obvious strange colour or odour.
  • If raw food has leaked during thawing, clean and disinfect the areas the food has touched. Do not reuse washcloths until they have been cleaned and disinfected.
  • Food that still contains ice crystals or feels refrigerator-cold can be re-frozen. 
Refrigerated food
  • Discard any thawed hazardous food items that have remained at room temperature for 2 or more hours. When in doubt throw it out!
  • During a power failure the refrigerator will keep food cool for 4 to 6 hours, depending on the kitchen temperature and the original temperature of the refrigerator.
  • Place securely wrapped packages of raw meat, poultry, or fish in the coldest section of your refrigerator.
  • Put ice in the refrigerator to help keep it cool.
  • An icebox or cooler filled with ice will keep perishable foods temporarily chilled.
Dry goods
  • Do not store dry goods on the floor because insects and rodents may get inside.
  • Dry items such as cookies, potato chips, etc. do not need to be kept cool.

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Private wells - Drinking water safety during and after a power outage

Power outages can disrupt well water drinking supplies. During a power outage, the pressure in your plumbing will drop, possibly allowing for backflow events or other ways for contaminants to enter your plumbing system. While your water system may have several litres of water in storage, using the water while the power is out depressurizes the system and increases the chances of contamination.

During long power outages do not try to run water or flush toilets. However, in winter if your indoor temperature drops during a prolonged power outage, you may have to drain the plumbing to avoid frozen water from damaging pipes.

During a power outage

A power outage will normally cause the well water pump to fail. In this situation you should use an alternate source of safe water, such as commercially bottled water or follow the instructions provided here for temporarily treating your water.

If you have a back-up generator supplying power to your well pump you can use the water as usual.

To treat water for drinking or making infant formula, juices, ice, or recipes; brushing your teeth; and washing food or dishes:

  • Bring it to a rolling boil for at least one minute and let it cool before using.


  • Disinfect one litre of water with household bleach (containing about 5.25% chlorine) with two drops (0.1 mL) of household bleach. If your water is cloudy use four drops of household bleach per one litre of water.
  • Stir it well and let it stand for at least 30 minutes before you use it.

Store boiled or disinfected water in clean containers with covers. Refrigerate if possible.

After power is restored
  • If you have a back-up generator, continue to use the water as you did before the power failure.   
  • If you lost power and it is now restored: 
    • Before drinking the water, flush all lines by letting the water run for five minutes at each tap. 
    • Test your well water for bacterial water quality before you use it if your water system lost all its pressure, and no water came out of the faucets during a power outage. See the OPH website Free Well Water Testing for information on how to test your well.
  • If you have a concern about your water quality, continue to use a safe water source until you have tested it and confirmed it is safe to drink. Use an alternate source of safe water, such as commercially bottled water or
    • Bring it to a rolling boil for at least one minute and let it cool before using, or
    • Disinfect one litre of water with household bleach (containing about 5.25% chlorine) with two drops (0.1 mL) of household bleach. If your water is cloudy use four drops of household bleach per one litre of water.
    • Stir it well and let it stand for at least 30 minutes before you use it.
  • If you have a private treatment system for your drinking water, such as ultraviolet light, make sure the treatment system is running properly once the power is restored.  

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Protect your health during the clean-up

Debris, such as insulation or dust, can sometimes cause lung irritation or trigger allergic reactions.

If you are experiencing symptoms that are new or worrisome (examples: breathing problems, lung irritation, skin hives), remove yourself from the environment and seek medical attention.

Protect yourself against air-borne dust and particles by wearing:

Additional personal safety equipment:

  • Strong gloves to protect against cuts.
  • Safety footwear to protect against punctures.
  • Hearing protection when working with/near loud tools or equipment.

Wash hands thoroughly with soap under running water before eating and at day’s end.

Avoid bringing dirt and dust home with you and launder clean-up clothing separately. 

Be aware of the health risks and presence of ticks (see below), West Nile virus, wild parsnip and poison ivy.

Prevent tick bites and Lyme disease

Even during this time of the year, ticks are still present and pose a risk to those participating in the clean-up.

Lyme disease is an important health concern in many parts of Canada and is spread by the bite of blacklegged ticks infected with the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. Most people are infected with Lyme disease through the bite of an immature tick called a nymph.

Nymphs are tiny (less than two mm, about the size of a poppy seed) and difficult to see. Nymphs feed during the spring and summer months. Adult ticks are much larger and are more likely to be discovered and removed before they have had time to transmit the bacteria. Adult blacklegged ticks are most active during spring and again in late summer and fall.

The blacklegged tick that carries the bacteria that can cause Lyme disease is present in the Ottawa area, across Eastern Ontario, and the Outaouais region of Quebec.

Visit our Lyme disease page for more information about how to prevent Lyme disease, remove ticks and the signs and symptoms of Lyme disease.

Download our Lyme disease factsheet [PDF]

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Are you worried about asbestos?

What is asbestos? There are several minerals commonly known as asbestos. These minerals can be used to make products strong, long-lasting and fire-resistant.

Before 1990, asbestos was mainly used for insulating buildings and homes against cold weather and noise. It was also used for fireproofing. When asbestos particles become airborne, breathing in asbestos fibers can cause cancer and other diseases. Learn more about asbestos in the home

Worker Health and Safety

Frequently asked questions about asbestos

If you have specific concerns about worker safety contact the Ontario Ministry of Labour Health & Safety contact centre at 1-877-202-0008.  Online information is available from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.

Homeowner Health and Safety and Regulatory Requirements

The Occupation Health and Safety Act requires an owner to prepare a list of designated substances prior to contracting for services. 

Legislation does not apply to homeowners doing work on their own properties or to volunteers, however, personal protective equipment should be worn. Visit the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety website for more information on safety and regulatory requirements.

  • The Ontario Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks should be contacted for information on disposal information. For more information call 1-866-663-8477.
  • Homeowner duties and responsibilities are described by the Infrastructure Health and Safety Association: 1-800-263-5024 or

A directory of qualified contractors is available from the Directory of Environmental Abatement Council of Ontario.

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Additional resources

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