Hazards to Winnipeg

The Office of Emergency Management (OEM) is always reviewing plans to address hazards in Winnipeg. In some cases, we may be faced with more than one hazard at a time, and OEM takes the lead on risk assessments and coordinating efforts to mitigate these hazards. You can learn more about each of these hazards to assist you in your preparedness planning. 

Having adequate air quality is important to health and safety. Various irritants and pollutants can impact air quality and pose a risk to residents. Examples of contaminants include smoke from fires, mould, fungi, bacteria, pollen/spores, chemical gases, vapours, particles, and radiological pollutants.

People who may be more vulnerable to the health effects of air pollution include children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those with certain health conditions.

Air quality should be considered both indoors and outdoors. To protect your family from the adverse effects of contaminated air quality, take the following precautions:

  • In the event of an air quality emergency, arrange to stay with family and friends who are not in the affected area, if possible
  • Relocate to a public clean air shelter or a commercial building with good air filtration like a shopping mall
  • Avoid activities that create smoke or other particles indoors: smoking cigarettes, pipes, and cigars; using gas, propane, or wood-burning stoves and furnaces; spraying aerosol food, frying or broiling food; burning candles or incense; vacuuming (unless you use a vacuum with a HEPA filter)
  • Ensure your 72-hour emergency kit has the following items: water, prescribed medications, and inhalers
  • Do not rely on dust masks for protection, as these masks commonly found at hardware stores will not protect you from the dangerous particles found in wildfire smoke or other toxic particles
  • Consider purchasing an air purifier or filtration system for your home
  • Pay special attention to pets; if they exhibit any symptoms of an air quality related illness, including coughing, gagging, trouble breathing, fatigue, weakness, stumbling, loss of appetite or thirst, contact your veterinarian

Consult the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) for information about the current air quality in your area.

Smoke from wildfires - even those thousands of kilometres away - can impact air quality in Winnipeg. Wildfire smoke can present dangers for all individuals, but can be particularly difficult for at-risk populations, including: young children, seniors, pregnant women, individuals with existing respiratory or cardiovascular conditions, and those who are active outdoors engaging in strenuous work or exercise activities.

Health impacts from wildfire smoke may include eye irritation, coughing, and a runny nose. More severe impacts could include shortness of breath, asthma attacks, chest tightness, and elevated heart rates. The presence of wildfire smoke can also worsen the effects of pre-existing heart and lung conditions.

Take these precautions to protect yourself and your family from the hazards of wildfire smoke:

  • Limit time spent outdoors
  • Consider moving physical activities to indoor areas
  • Keep windows closed to prevent wildfire smoke from entering your home
  • Whenever possible, set your ventilation systems to recirculate air, turning off furnace and air conditioners which may draw wildfire smoke inside
  • Consult your primary care provider if you have specific health concerns
  • Check on any individuals who are considered at-risk populations (friends, family members, or neighbours), and ensure they are staying safe and following precautions
  • Keep informed by following the weather and checking the Air Quality Health Index or other public health sources

While all utility providers do their very best to maintain their services, from time to time there are events that interrupt that service.

Power outage

When you experience a power outage, consider the following:

  • Check with your neighbours to see if they have electricity
  • If you experience a neighbourhood power outage, unplug all appliances and computer equipment to avoid damage from a power surge when the power is restored, and shut off all lights except one to signal the return of power
  • If your service has been interrupted, contact Manitoba Hydro
  • Report downed power lines to Manitoba Hydro; stay away from all downed power lines as they may be live and can electrocute people or pets that come in contact with them - if a power line is touching water, sparking, or on fire, avoid the area and call 911
  • Turn on your battery-powered radio and tune it to a local radio station Keep your phone charged if possible and follow City of Winnipeg social media channels
  • If your home is the only one in the neighbourhood without power, the problem could be in your residence; know the location and type of service in your home (fuse box or circuit breaker panel) and know how it works - if you do not know how to change a fuse or re-set the breaker, contact Manitoba Hydro or a professional electrician
  • Most natural gas furnaces need power to operate, but do not have to be turned off, and will usually operate when power is restored, while most natural gas fireplace burners will operate without electricity - consult the manufacturer of your equipment for information about your furnace and fireplace
  • While most freezers can keep food cold for 12 to 24 hours without power, remember to keep the fridge and freezer doors shut as much as possible to preserve the cold temperatures.
  • Use emergency light sources from your 72-hour emergency kit, such as glow sticks and battery-powered flashlights
  • Never leave candles burning unattended or while you sleep; instead, use a car charger to keep your cell phone charged

When your power is restored

  • Wait a few minutes for the power to stabilize before plugging in appliances again and check your electrical appliances one-by-one
  • Turn on circuit breakers
  • Be sure the water heater is full of water before turning it on
  • Turn off portable heaters
  • Check your home for damage

Downed Power Lines

Power lines can fall or be damaged during high winds, heavy rain or snow, or as a result of another emergency like a vehicle collision, train derailment, flood, or structure fire

Treat all downed lines as if they are energized and call 9-1-1 if you see one.

  • A downed or damaged power line is extremely dangerous. They may be live and can electrocute people or pets that come in contact with them.
  • Stay far away from the power line and anything they touch, including puddles and metal fences, and call 9-1-1.
  • If a power line is sparking or is on fire, stay far away and call 9-1-1. Sparks or flames from damaged power lines can spread to other structures like buildings, homes, fences, or trees, causing a fire.
  • Never try to move a downed power line with any object or remove tree limbs from power lines. Manitoba Hydro employees will do this.
  • Keep children and pets far away from all downed or damaged power lines.
  • Stay clear of low or sagging power lines.
  • If it's not an emergency, report low or downed power lines to Manitoba Hydro at 204-480-5900.

Natural gas outage

The safety controls on natural gas equipment are designed to close and shut equipment off if gas flow is interrupted. For information on your equipment contact the manufacturer. If you smell natural gas (rotten egg odor), get out of the building immediately, stay out, and call 911.

  • Contact Manitoba Hydro
  • Turn the thermostat down so it is not calling for heat.
  • Have a carbon monoxide alarm with a battery backup on all levels of your home and test them regularly.

Stay warm in your home without power or gas

  • Keep windows and doors closed to conserve heat and wear warm clothing
  • Use an emergency heating source to warm one room before the building gets too cold; if the power is still on, use an electric heater to maintain heat - consult Manitoba Hydro for a list of safe emergency heat sources
  • If you choose to use a home generator for backup electricity, operate it safely and follow the manufacturer's instructions
    • Use your generator outdoors only, in well-ventilated conditions, away from doors, windows, and air intakes
    • Connect your lights and appliances directly to the generator and avoid the use of extension cords
    • Never use a fuel-powered generator indoors or in a garage or other confined outdoor space, as carbon monoxide can build up, which can cause serious injury or death
    • For more information, refer to Manitoba Hydro
  • Check water pipes to ensure they do not freeze

When natural gas is restored

  • You may have to re-light the pilot light(s). If you don't know how, contact Manitoba Hydro. Authorities may instruct you to wait for professional assistance.
  • Be sure your water heater is full of water before turning it on.
  • Turn up the furnace thermostat.
  • Turn off portable heaters.

If you suspect carbon monoxide is present in your home, get out, stay out and call 911.

If you must evacuate your home during a power or natural gas outage, ensure you take the appropriate precautions

  • Turn off your home's main electric switch.
  • Turn off your home's water heater switch.
  • If you have a hot water or steam boiler system, turn off the power and/or natural gas supply and drain the boiler and system according to the manufacturer's instructions. For specific information contact the manufacturer.

If you suspect your home will freeze up due to lack of power, take the following steps

  • Drain water pipes to prevent water in pipes from freezing and splitting the pipes:
    • Shut off the tap at water meter and then turn on your taps to get the water out of your pipes.
    • Turn on a tap in your basement, drain water into pails and save for use.
  • Drain your hot water tank and furnace humidifier.
  • Flush your toilet(s) to empty as much water as possible. Add recreation vehicle antifreeze to toilet tanks and bowls to reduce chance of freezing.
  • Drain water from washing machine and dishwasher.
  • Drain your hot tub.
  • Add recreation vehicle antifreeze to all sink, bathtub, shower and floor drains.
  • When notified, City works crews may shut off the water at the street and they may also require access to your house to drain the water meter.
  • Protect the valve, inlet pipe and water meter or pump with blankets or insulating material.
  • If you are able to keep the temperature above freezing in the area of the water meter or water tank there may be no need to drain this equipment; however, the City may have to shut the water off for other reasons.

The Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service responds to 50 calls for service related to Hazardous Materials each year. If you encounter a hazardous materials situation such as a gas leak or chemical spill, get to a safe place and call 911. Follow these precautions:

  • If you smell natural gas, leave the area immediately and call 911
  • Signs of a natural gas leak include rotten egg smell, bubbles in a ditch or waterway, dirt being blown into the air, distinct patches of dead or discoloured vegetation, or a loud hissing noise
  • If you suspect a natural gas leak, leave the area immediately and call 911, even if you think it's minor
  • Natural gas is flammable - do not smoke, light matches or lighters, operate electrical switches, appliances, phones, vehicles or create any other source of ignition or sparks anywhere near a gas leak
  • Ensure you have a home escape plan and that all members of your household are familiar with it
  • If the hazardous material is not flammable, move away from the danger area, avoid visible clouds, and shelter-in-place in a safe location until you receive instructions to leave - this is especially important if you are indoors and suspect the hazardous material is present in the evacuation route
  • If the hazardous material may be outside the building you are in, evacuation may not be the best option

If you encounter a hazardous materials incident while in your vehicle, take the following precautions:

  • Turn on your radio and follow all instructions from emergency services personnel - if the area is exposed to a flammable material, you will be required to shut off your vehicle and evacuate the area.
  • Close all windows and air vents, and shut off the heater or air conditioner so that it is not blowing air
  • In most cases you are safer to drive away from the area than to try and wait it out in a vehicle
  • If you cannot drive out of the area, shut off your vehicle and wait with the radio on; turn on your hazard lights and use your horn and headlights to attract attention - if you have to wait for an extended period, be mindful not to drain your vehicle's battery

Transportation networks are critical to our community and economy; however, transportation-related emergencies or disasters can occur, and sometimes these incidents can involve dangerous goods which can have negative impacts on human and environmental health. These types of transportation related emergencies or disasters can include:

  • Road transportation
  • Rail transportation
  • Aviation
  • Marine transportation

The City's Office of Emergency Management works closely with federal, provincial, and private-sector partners to enhance emergency preparedness related to all types of transportation incidents.

Current information about the COVID-19 pandemic.

A pandemic is a situation where an infectious disease spreads through the global population. This differs from an epidemic, which is just as serious, but is contained to a specific geographic region or country.

A pandemic is usually caused by a new virus that becomes easily transmissible between humans or by bacteria that becomes resistant to treatments from antibiotics.

To be prepared for future pandemics, follow these tips:

  • Ask your health care provider about getting the seasonal flu vaccine to prevent the spread of the influenza virus
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Ensure your 72-hour emergency kit has the following items: alcohol-based hand sanitizer, medicine for headache, cough, and fever, diarrhea (consult with your health care professional before purchasing any medication), thermometer, and electrolyte beverages
  • Connect with the Province of Manitoba for more information

Winnipeg experiences a number of severe weather storms throughout the year. These severe weather events can include thunderstorms, hail, lightning, heavy rain, and tornadoes.

Thunderstorms, lightning & hail

When the weather forecasts a thunderstorm, you should prepare for heavy rain, lightning, and the potential for hail. Thunderstorms are usually over in an hour, although a series of thunderstorms can last for several hours. You can estimate how far away the lightning is by counting seconds between the flash of lightning and the sound of the thunder. Each second is equal to 300 meters. If you count fewer than 30 seconds between lightning and thunder, take shelter immediately.

To protect yourself, your family, and your property from thunderstorms, consider the following:

  • If thunder roars, go indoors - stay inside if possible as lightning, high winds, and hail can cause significant injuries
  • Once inside, do not go out to cover plants, cars, or garden furniture, or to rescue animals - do not attempt to retrieve laundry from a clothesline, as a clothesline can conduct electricity
  • Stay away from windows, doors, fireplaces, radiators, sinks, bathtubs, appliances, metal pipes, telephones, and other things that conduct electricity (you can use a cell phone)
  • Unplug radios, computers, televisions, and other electronic equipment
  • If you're outside, take shelter in a building, ditch, or a culvert - never take shelter under a tree
  • If you're caught in the open, do not lie flat; instead, crouch in the leap frog position and lower your head
  • Do not ride bicycles, motorcycles, or golf carts, or use metal tools
  • If swimming or in a boat, get back to shore immediately
  • If you are in a car, stay there but pull away from trees that might fall on you
  • You may resume activity 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder

Heavy rain

A heavy rainfall can result in flooding. This is particularly true when the ground is still frozen or already saturated from previous storms or if the rainfall is so heavy the storm sewer systems become overwhelmed. Floods may also result if a heavy rain coincides with spring thaw. If heavy rain is forecasted, take the following precautions:

  • Do not drive through flood waters; you may not be able to tell how deep water on a roadway is, and high water can sweep your car away, or flood your engine, damaging your vehicle and leaving you trapped
  • Avoid crossing bridges if the water is high and flowing quickly
  • If visibility is impaired, slow down, or pull over and stop
  • Do not wade into flood waters, as they can be electrified from fallen power lines or they may contain hazards
  • If you are trapped by flood waters, either in a vehicle or on foot, call 911


Tornadoes are violent windstorms identified by their twisting funnel-shaped cloud. They are always produced by thunderstorms but not every thunderstorm produces a tornado. They are erratic and can change course suddenly. Never chase tornadoes, as they are unpredictable and dangerous.

If a tornado is forecast, you should take precautions to protect yourself, your family, and your property. Some advanced signs of tornadoes include the following:

  • 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 or a whistling sound such as a jet aircraft
  • A funnel cloud at the rear of a thunder cloud, often behind a curtain of heavy rain or hail.

If a tornado warning has been issued, take cover immediately. To stay safe during a tornado, follow these guidelines:

If you are in a house

  • Go to the basement or take shelter in a small interior ground floor room such as a bathroom, closet or hallway.
  • If you have no basement, 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.
  • Do not use the elevator.
  • Stay away from windows.

If you are in a gymnasium, church or auditorium

  • Large buildings with wide-span roofs may collapse if a tornado hits.
  • If possible, find shelter in another building.
  • If you are in one of these buildings and cannot leave, take cover under a sturdy structure such as a table or desk.

Avoid cars and mobile homes

  • More than half of all deaths from tornadoes happen in mobile homes.
  • Find 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. Beware of flooding from downpours and be prepared to move.
  • Those who live in manufactured homes are at greater risk of damage. Be extra vigilant about giving yourself enough time to evacuate.

If you are driving

  • Do not travel. If you are in your car, open the windows slightly and park off the road with your brakes set, away from tall objects and power lines. Do not leave your car if there are downed lines nearby.
  • If you spot a tornado in the distance go to the nearest solid shelter.
  • If the tornado is close, abandon your vehicle and move at a right angle to the storm's path. If this is not possible, find a low-lying area, such as a ditch, and lie flat. Hang onto a small tree or shrub if you can.

In all cases

  • Get as close to the ground as possible, protect your head and watch for flying debris.
  • Do not chase tornadoes - they are unpredictable and can change course abruptly.
  • A tornado is deceptive. It may appear to be standing still but is, in fact, moving toward you.
  • Do not follow tornadoes in your car or attempt to take photographs of them. If you see a tornado, take shelter immediately.

For more information, refer to Public Safety Canada.

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