Surrey entrepreneur stresses disaster preparedness regardless of Mayan doomsday fears

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Preparing for the unexpected is a lifestyle choice for Cherise McGee and her husband Dylan Okeymow.

It’s a big part of their daily lives. As a parent, McGee volunteers in the school system, where she stresses the importance of being prepared for disasters. Okeymow’s background is in fire safety.

Preparedness is also at the core of their Surrey business, Chylan Emergency Gear Inc., which they opened in March this year.

“Our philosophy is to take care of yourself and not rely on government or other agencies to be responsible for your wellbeing,” McGee told the Straight in a phone interview. “You know how that turns out. For example, in [hurricane] Katrina, everybody was, ‘Oh the government will come and help us when something bad happens.’ But they didn’t and see what happened there [in New Orleans]. I believe our government is great but they can’t do everything.”

According to McGee, what Chylan sells is more than just emergency kits that are packed with items like food, water, light sticks, and blankets.

“What we sell is a lifestyle,” the early-30s entrepreneur explained.

“The kits that we sell are based on the government’s 72-hour recommended preparedness,” she said. “But we kind of go beyond that with more of the self-reliance. So instead of just getting a kit and tucking it away, we kind of encourage people to make their own food, consider other alternative power sources. We sell solar products as well like solar light bulbs and solar bags and solar cellphone chargers.”

According to McGee, the store saw brisk business in the days following the 7.7-magnitude quake off the coast of B.C.’s Haida Gwaii on October 27. The quake triggered tsunami warnings.

“Our products are selling to people who don’t really go out to buy every day,” the mother of three children said. “It’s something they want to buy but they need to be triggered to buy it. So when the earthquake happened...it put it to the top of the priority list I guess.”

When asked during the phone interview on December 7 about business this month, McGee said that the store is “still getting regular sales but nothing like in November”.

She was also asked if she hears talk from customers who mention December 21, a date some associate with doomsday due to supposed ending of the Mayan calendar.

“I don’t believe that anything’s gonna happen on that day, and I don’t feel comfortable using that as a marketing tool, to fear-monger people,” McGee said. “We do have customers who talk about it, and we’re happy to chat about it and we don’t agree or disagree with what they’re saying. But I don’t feel comfortable encouraging that.”

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