Volunteers key to aid efforts

Flood watch | Canadian Red Cross looks to bolster volunteer reserves through new initiative

With flooding incidents still in recent memory and a large spring thaw underway, officials with the Canadian Red Cross say they’re monitoring the situation closely.

“So much of it is weather related, depending on how quickly the melt happens, depending on if we get any additional moisture in the next month or two,” Kim MacLean, Red Cross provincial lead for disaster management, said about the flood threat in Saskatchewan.

“There’s so many what ifs, but I have to say the good news is communities are taking it very seriously and are working really, really hard, and so are families and individuals.”

The Red Cross, which provides shelter, food and first aid services to communities, works with the Saskatchewan government and monitors information from the Saskatchewan Water Security Agency.

“We’re in the midst right now of preparing for the flooding that’s being predicted here in Saskatchewan, in Manitoba, and there are forest fires again being predicted in B.C.,” said Sue Phillips, Red Cross director general for Western Canada.

She highlighted areas around Saskatoon, Regina and the Souris Valley as areas of concern in Sask-atchewan as a large snow pack disappears. However, she said the soil isn’t as saturated as it was in 2011 when Saskatchewan and Manitoba saw significant flooding.

“2011 is still fresh in everybody’s mind,” she said.

“It wasn’t that long ago that we had such a significant event. That’s making people really focus on the preparation.”

In emergency situations, the organization relies upon supplies it has stored across Western Canada and its network of volunteers to deliver those provisions.

The organization responded to more than 350 incidents in Western Canada last year, such as local fires and floods as well as larger events in which entire communities are evacuated.

Phillips said the organization’s resources are sometimes taxed as events double up.

For example, she said the Red Cross was responding to flooding in Manitoba in 2011 when a fire in Slave Lake, Alta., devastated that community.

“We responded. We had people on the road immediately, going into that community, but that’s the nature of what can happen and why you need to have that ability to surge with volunteers.”

Last week, the Red Cross announced a partnership with Federated Co-operatives Ltd., which includes funding of up to $1 million over five years.

Additionally, eight of FCL’s prairie retailers, including Brandon, Yorkton and Medicine Hat, will participate in volunteer recruitment and training.

Vic Huard, FCL’s vice-president of corporate affairs, said the organization will expand this effort in coming years.

“Every year we have to train new people because the majority of our work is done by volunteers,” said MacLean, who works with a network of 350 volunteers in her province.

“If we don’t have volunteers, we can’t deliver the service really well.”

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