Prince Albert’s 100 or so Red Cross volunteers got a well-deserved pat on the back on Thursday.
Evacuations from the summer’s wildfires crisis taxed the organization. Almost 10,000 people went through Prince Albert for help through the Red Cross after the summer’s wildfires forced them through their homes. About half of those people found accommodations in the city.
In the disaster situation lots of people stepped up to offer their time, including some familiar faces, said Prince Albert’s Kim Maclean is the Red Cross’s director of disaster management for Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
“I remember walking through and looking ‘that’s my neighbour.’ I didn’t even recognize they were there,” she said. “You see people every day and you don’t expect things from them and then something like this happens and some people do things that you never would have thought they could have done.”
About 100 people from Prince Albert, and 450 province-wide, volunteered their time with Red Cross during the summer. Those people and Red Cross staff put more than 30,000 man hours into the Red Cross’s response to the northern wildfires.
MacLean recalled the night of mass evacuations, in which people were bused to Prince Albert and waited at the Margo Fournier Center.
“I remember the night that everybody had to come out. It’s a bit of a trickle down they all start coming you start off with health issues around smoke, and then it was ‘you need to get everybody out,’and I remember thinking, ‘how are we going to do this? Where are we going to put everybody?’”
When plans changed in a hurry, Red Cross had help from police, the City of Prince Albert, and the Salvation Army.
The accommodations offered for 700 people at Cold Lake left a lot to be desired. Maclean says Cold Lake offered its Red Cross-vetted space in a crisis situation, and they took it. She says there are lessons to be taken from this, but at the time they needed a building that follows strict Health Canada rules. This includes a certain number of sinks in the building, and other requirements.
MacLean has respect for the First Nations who stepped up to offer what they couldn’t, including the self-proclaimed “Rez Cross” that set up on Beardy’s Okemasis First Nation.
“Those communities that were providing food that represented indigenous diets, that was so great. It’s not something that we were able to manage, but they could. So perfect, works out,” she said.
She said she sees the services offered by groups like Prince Albert Grand Council as a complement to the Red Cross’s efforts, not a competition.
The summer’s wildfire crisis was the biggest mass evacuation in the province’s history.
As a disaster management expert, MacLean says those displaced by Syria’s bombings and the summer’s northern wildfire evacuees have a lot in common.
In September MacLean helped Red Cross in Germany, to offer a safe place for Syrians that left their country due to bombings and war. In the past, she’s travelled to New Orleans to help the Red Cross with Hurrican Katrina’s ensuing chaos.
MacLean explains, the Red Cross looks at natural disasters and wars through the same lens.
“The way we respond is, ‘is there a need, is there vulnerability?’ Then, ‘how can we step up and support it’ We don’t spend a lot of time on questioning ‘we need to help domestic first or local first versus from around the world,’” she said.
“It’s ‘what is the need at this time?’ And that’s how you have to approach disasters … what can I do to help that need and help make things better for that individual?”
Maclean says even though many were frustrated with long waits to register with Red Cross this summer, she saw in Germany just how necessary it was.
They were processing 1,500 Syrians a day – providing them with food and temporary shelter.
Canada is aiming to accept 25,000 people fleeing the war-torn country by this February.