The recent fire in Slave Lake, Alta. has left many people wondering how the community will rebuild and, most importantly, cope with the aftermath of a devastating event that destroyed approximately one third of the community, including homes, the library, town government offices, businesses and much more.
The answer to that lies in the overall health and resiliency of the community itself – and there is strong evidence to back that statement from researchers like Dr. Judith Kulig (health sciences) who, with several colleagues, has spent the past decade examining what happens in smaller communities when disaster strikes, and how the overall health of the community is reflected in its ability to recover from disaster.
Over the past decade, wildfires in Canada have forced nearly 700,000 people to be evacuated from more than 250 communities. This has caused massive amounts of financial, environmental and personal damage, including job losses, the loss of residents in a community, as well as lingering health and emotional challenges.
The research team, which includes
Dr. Ivan Townshend (geography) and members from universities in Alberta, British Columbia, Quebec, Ontario and Australia, has studied fires in Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia and has found that there are common elements that can contribute to increasing a sense of community resiliency in the face of large-scale disasters, such as wildfires.
· Develop memorandums of understanding with relevant agencies to ensure that during and after the disaster, arising issues are addressed and that lines of communication and authority are in place.
· Develop public education and disaster awareness that is appropriate for the community (e.g., having a livestock evacuation plan).
· Create an updated community disaster plan, which identifies a back-up community that could assist, and transportation plans for evacuations (e.g., use of school busses).
· Maintain up-to-date maps to locate all individuals that may need evacuation.
· Establish policies to determine if large gatherings planned for the time period of an evacuation or evacuation alert should be cancelled.
During the Disaster
· Develop communication strategies so that the evacuees are updated about the condition of their homes and community during the wildfire.
· Create effective coordination of all relevant agencies.
· Ensure adequate safety and surveillance procedures are in place for vacated property.
After the Disaster
· Collect economic, social and health data in communities that experience wild-fires for 5 years after the wildfire and then every 10 years for 3 more decades.
· Develop temporary programs for the school-aged population to help them deal with the ongoing issues associated with the wildfire.
· Provide long-term mental health/community change facilitation for all community members.
· Provide financial counseling for families.
Fostering Community Resiliency
· Providing opportunities for local residents to gather and reflect on the disaster experience thereby building their networks and developing
opportunities for interaction.
· Organize celebrations to provide avenues for social support while also creating a sense of belonging and community.
· Provide support for local leaders and develop mechanisms to create the next generation of leaders within the community.
Complete study results are available on the rural wildfire website (www.ruralwildfire.ca).
Donations are still being accepted for the Slave Lake recovery process through the Canadian Red Cross (www.redcross.ca).
This story first appeared in the Legend. To view the Legend in a flipbook format, follow this link.