Emergency Social Services

Every year a variety of natural, technological and human-caused disasters such as floods, fires, tornadoes, storms, blizzards, hazardous chemical spills, transportation and industrial accidents strike communities across Canada. They can strike anywhere and at any time. Along with the damage and destruction they cause to the physical environment, disasters primarily affect people: people may be killed or injured, homes or properties damaged or destroyed, utilities interrupted or severely damaged, and families dislocated. In some disasters such as toxic fires, floods, or forest fires, people may have to evacuate temporarily their homes or communities.

Individual citizens and families have a responsibility to educate and prepare themselves and their households for emergencies. Individual and family preparedness may help tip the scales between being a survivor or a victim in a disaster. At the same time, communities and governments are expected to plan for emergencies to protect their citizens and provide services to reduce the impacts of emergency situations. People may require immediate assistance with basic needs such as food, clothing, emergency shelter, medical assistance, transportation, emotional support, and information. In Saskatchewan, authority for emergency planning and response is derived from the Emergency Planning Act. The Saskatchewan Emergency Plan details emergency response structures, procedures, and responsibilities of both the municipal and provincial governments.

The first level of government responsible for dealing with an emergency is the local authority for the area affected. When the capacity of the local authority is exceeded or is likely to be, a second level of intervention is activated which involves the provision of resources from adjacent or neighbouring communities through formal or informal mutual aid or other agreements. When these two combined levels of responses are exceeded or are in danger of being exceeded, the local authority may request assistance from the provincial government. The province may, if it deems necessary, also call on the federal government for assistance. In a large-scale disaster the volume, urgency, and intensity of human needs and the degree of social disorganization are usually such that regular community social service resources are unable to cope. The situation requires implementation of an emergency social service response system to meet the urgent physical and personal needs until regular community social services or recovery services are again operational.

In Saskatchewan, as elsewhere in Canada, emergency social services organizations may be called into action in an emergency situation to help provide the basic services essential to meet the non-medical needs of people affected by a disaster. Emergency social services include a variety of measures. Where necessary, people may be evacuated from an affected area. Safe, temporary lodging may be required for people displaced from their homes, along with clothing and food. Food, lodging, and other services may also be required for volunteers and other emergency responders. Good organization is a key to effective emergency social services. Emergency responders frequently need to set up a reception centre in a facility such as a school gymnasium, church hall or arena, where services can be organized for people affected by the emergency. Reception centres also facilitate registration and inquiry processes, so that people can be accounted for and families reunited. People affected by an emergency disaster may also have to adjust to major changes in their lives. Illness or injury, and even loss of life may accompany an emergency. Personal services associated with the emergency response are made available where necessary to help people deal with personal, family and job issues, to grieve for losses, and to begin recovering homes and property affected by the event. A key goal for emergency social services is to help people regain their independence as soon as possible after a disaster.

Theo Tibo