This post, originally written in response to the flooding in Alberta in 2013, has been updated to help address the consequences of the terrible wildfires in and around Fort McMurray, May 2016.
No one expects a disaster. They are usually sudden, unexpected and unpredictable. Even though parts of Canada are hit by flooding and wildfires every year, the experience is always devastating. The residents of Slave Lake know only too well what their fellow Albertans in Fort McMurray face this week and in times ahead.
Most of us have limited experience with the magnitude of catastrophic events, and tend to be armchair observers as we watch the news about far-away locations. This week, it’s much closer to home for many of us. In fact, it’s in our homes, our businesses, our parks and in our streets. Fire. Everywhere.
What can we do when faced with such unfamiliar events?
First, follow instructions. It’s easy to disbelieve the severity of the situation, because this is the stuff of B movies. Trust the emergency response teams when they tell you to evacuate, stay away from the torrents and be extra vigilant with children and pets. Trained responders know what they’re doing – most of the rest of us have limited experience. This is not the time to test the waters.
Next, find a place that’s safe and stay there. Let remote family know where you are. It’s best to stay off the roads and out of the way of emergency vehicles. Cancel your appointments and other scheduled gatherings. Life isn’t normal right now; accept that.
Finally, prepare for some not-so-obvious side effects. Yes, for many people , there will be physical damage to deal with, but other consequences may also develop: don’t be surprised by feelings of helplessness, disbelief and even anger. These are all normal reactions and remind us we are human beings – vulnerable to nature’s force. We are also resilient beings, and a sense of community, charity, plus care and concern for our fellows also comes with natural disasters.
Take this opportunity to reach out – to those personally affected, and for help, if you feel personally overwhelmed. It’s out there. Just ask.
Many of our fellow Canadians in Alberta are being affected by devastating wildfire. Our entire national network of counsellors is on standby to support clients in affected areas. We extend our sympathy to those directly impacted by this week’s events.
– Allan Stordy, President & CEO