When Disaster Strikes

Picture of roaring flood waters
Image by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay.

When disaster strikes, as it has here in British Columbia with the extreme flooding that has cut the province off from the rest of Canada, people watch the news in disbelief and horror. Impotence, too.

I know I feel powerless and can empathize with the fear, frustration, anger, grief and all the other emotions of people who have lost not only their homes, animals and in many cases, their livelihood. I feel compelled to do something to help.

It is evident that many people feel the same way:

What Does This Tell Us?

People want to help. People care, not only in the communities that are directly impacted, but also from further afield. Often the only way people who live outside the directly-impacted area can help is to donate money. Organizations like the Canadian Red CrossGlobal Medic and the BC SPCA are accepting financial donations to provide flood relief.

It gives me shivers and brings tears to my eyes when I see these kind and altruistic acts by people who feel compelled to do something, anything. Stories like these help to overshadow the ones that cause me to deplore the instinct that some people have to hoard.

Taking Action

The stories that I shared above indicate that beyond opening one's wallet, there's a need to take action. In some cases, people are financially unable to donate money, but they are prepared to help in other ways.

Volunteers line up to sandbag, to offer shelter, comfort, bring animals and people to safety...They find doing something physical to help is important. We saw it during 9/11, when many Canadians across the country opened their hearts and homes to the stranded airline passengers when the flights were grounded.

A touching film and musical about how the residents of Gander, Newfoundland portrayed the best of what humanity offers.

We've also seen the best of humanity during COVID-19. Sadly, more often than not, our attention is magnetically draw to the stories that depict the worst of humanity.

Action helps with stress

The act of physically doing something can move you out of the freeze state. Your perception shifts. By banding together with like-minded people, you work to accomplish a common goal. A sense of purpose and community is fostered. While the going is tragic, tough and often dangerous, putting muscles to work can help reduce stress. While it's not the same, my walking projects were sanity-saving during the pandemic. There's a sense of satisfaction, rather than impotence, that propels people to take action, despite feeling exhausted, shocked and overwhelmed.

An idea worth implementing

As more military troops head to B.C., experts call for civilian disaster response solution, Josh Bowen, an instructor at the NAIT (formerly Northern Alberta Institute of Technology) Faculty of Disaster and Emergency Management has proposed, “'that we need to look at what our neighbours, what our NATO allies, what our G20 allies are doing to be able to have a civilian response capability.'" He suggests creating groups of civilian volunteers that are trained to help with disaster relief, rather than immediately calling upon the Canadian Military.

We've already seen that people are willing and able to physically get involved to do what they can. Wouldn't it make sense to have an organized system that can deploy people when and where needed, with the mandate to accept on-the-spot-get-it-done volunteers?

Another good reason to have a more organized approach to volunteer help is that it can be better coordinated so as not to impede rescue efforts.

Final Thoughts

There is no doubt that it's stressful when people are touched by disaster, whether they're directly involved or not. There is a plethora of articles that discusses how stress impacts the victims and the people whose responsibility it is to help i.e. First Responders, Aid Workers, government officials, volunteer doctors, nurses, pilots, engineers, etc.

It can be beneficial to provide people with a way in which to become physically involved during a time of disaster. The International Best Practices for the Use of Organized and Technically Trained Volunteers states:

"Indeed, members of the public feel compelled to act when caught in a disaster or witnessing a traumatic event. The simple fact of participating in response often mitigates psycho-social effects, by shifting their self-perception from victims to active volunteer responders." (Page 44)

A word of caution for the people providing assistance: Be aware of the fine line between care and overcare, which can lead to burnout and compassion fatigue.

Keep in mind that if you are not directly impacted by the disaster, it is important to limit your exposure to the news and social media. It's understandable that you want to stay up-to-date, but sometimes there's not a lot of change from one hour to the next. Those negative feelings that are generated can quickly overwhelm you. Be especially mindful of how this is impacting your children.

"Helping helps the helper." - Forrest Gump

Sadly, the oft-repeated COVID-19 refrain - we're in this together - is a sign of the times. Let's take this to heart and make a difference, together!

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