Emergency Preparedness Week and The Salvation Army

Salvation Army flood response
by Alberta

This week is Emergency Preparedness Week in Canada, and although our world has changed with COVID-19, it’s important to know there are still resources available to respond to this and other disaster emergencies. The Salvation Army’s Emergency Disaster Services (EDS) team is one of those resources, and their mission is to provide support to first responders and those affected by disaster.

The EDS team will respond from the initial devastation through to the recovery phase, and since The Salvation Army operates in over 130 countries around the world, our teams are ready to deploy quickly and respond from multiple Divisions and Territories as needed.

Carolynn Barkhouse, the Divisional Director of Emergency Disaster Services, leads the EDS team in the Alberta & Northern Territories Division, and oversees setting up strategic plans with other ministries when disasters happen. These plans include procuring resources of manpower, disposable food supplies, and making sure there are approved kitchens to cook meals. Other resources EDS provides are emotional and spiritual care, clean up, handling donations, and disaster care management.

When thousands of Albertans evacuated or lost their homes in the Fort McMurray (2016) and Slave Lake fires (2011), as well as the floods in Southern Alberta (2013), The Salvation Army helped many people rebuild their lives. The EDS team provided hot meals and water to first responders, while also providing residents with the help they need as the emergency phase ended, and recovery and rebuild began. The work is different when it’s local rather than international.

“In North American disasters you know you’re working 14-16 hour days, whereas internationally, we try and only work 8-10 hours because you’re there for such a long time that you can’t go for 14-16 hours everyday for two months,” Barkhouse said.

Barkhouse has been part of The Salvation Army’s EDS response to disasters in countries such as Indonesia, Bahamas, Mali (West Africa), and Haiti to name a few. Her decision to join the EDS team came after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States. Seven months later, she found herself in New York’s ground zero on her first mission. In that moment, she knew that EDS is the ministry that God had called her to. However, these missions she led are different from what the world is facing today with COVID-19.

The comparison to natural disasters is a hard to make but Carolynn explains, “the devastation is huge, but it’s localized in a large area. So, at some point, if you drive long enough, you’re out of it and life is normal. Here, that’s not the case. Life is not normal anywhere. You can’t go where life is normal.”

Barkhouse has seen a lot of devastation in her time with EDS but through that can come acts of kindness. During Hurricane Michael in Florida, Corps Officer Stefan Reid from Vernon, B.C., came across a church in a decimated community. This officer decided to help the local pastor and his wife, who was providing meals to 400 people with a little two burners and a hot plate provided by the EDS team.

“Stefan would constantly go and talk to the pastors and make sure that they were getting the care that they needed,” said Barkhouse. “He was just so passionate about helping that little community. It just glowed out of him, and the things that happened in that community because of us going in and supporting those pastors was just phenomenal.”

The appreciation for our frontline workers deepens through these times as they keep communities moving forward. Whether you’re a nurse or doctor at your local hospital, or an employee or volunteer for The Salvation Army, the appreciation continues beyond Emergency Preparedness Week.