Emergency Responder Flood Support

In July of 2013, we conducted a survey to support flood emergency responders in Alberta. Flooding continues to present challenges to emergency responders and communities across Canada. Learn more about our efforts to support flood education and emergency responders at the end of this article.

July 2013 – In July of 2013, Raven conducted a survey to support flood emergency responders in Alberta. We knew that collecting and sharing the experiential knowledge of those involved in the 2013 flooding crisis in Alberta would lead to opportunities for other emergency responders to improve the way they do their jobs.  Due to the range of clients we work with in various emergency response fields in Alberta, Raven was in an excellent position to do this type of review.

Our survey barely scratched the surface of the learning potential that exists from this experience.  While the collection and evaluation of feedback is certainly not the most energizing stage of a planning cycle, future initiatives and training need the insight gathered from feedback and reflection.

So don’t stop with this survey – keep the conversations going to hone in on what you and your teams need in order to secure emergency responder flood education before the next flooding event.

Flood Legacy Bursary recipient Dorin Constantin (centre – backwards ball cap) during the June 2013 Alberta flooding

Flood Survey Results

1. In what emergency response capacity did you respond to this flood crisis?

The majority of our respondents were SAR team members, followed by individuals working in specialized rescue roles.  We also had a few individuals respond who worked in evacuation center support roles.  It is worth noting that we received fewer responses from individuals working for fire departments.

2. What was your biggest challenge when responding to this crisis?

The overwhelming sentiment was that allocating all available resources in a timely and effective manner was the greatest challenge.  Here are some of the factors that made this an issue:
– Deployment delays
– Communication breakdowns
– Lack of correct resources
– Excess of incorrect resources

3. Did you have the proper training to prepare you to respond to this crisis?

YES – 73%
NO – 27%

The majority of the respondents had SRT1 training, followed by some form of Incident Command and SAR fundamentals training.  Many respondents also had one or two specialized types of training, including Confined Space Rescue, Technical Rope Rescue, Flood Awareness training, or Boat Operator training.

While respondents certainly had a wealth of training, very few had disaster-specific training (disaster victim management, or flood and water incident management, for example), which would have been relevant to an out-of-control event like the Alberta flooding. 

4. Which of the following training would have better prepared you to deal with the flooding?

85% Management of Flood and Water Incidents
69% Light Structural Collapse
62% Rescue from Vehicles in Water
38% Incident Command Systems
23% Technical Rope Rescue
23% Swiftwater Rescue Technician

In addition to the training suggestions we provided, respondents pointed out that some kind of disaster victim management training would have been a benefit.

5. What areas do you wish you knew more about?

75% Flood-related HAZMAT
58% Water rescue tactics
58% Search considerations and management
58% Flood prediction and behavior models
50% Scene size-up and safety controls
50% Mutual aid
42% Decommissioning
33% Pre-planning

6. What will you or your emergency response team do now to prepare for future crises?

Responses generally fell into the following two categories:

– Pursue more training
– Educate planning-level organizations about the capabilities of operation-level organizations.

Interpretation of Flood Survey Results

Interestingly, the responses to Question 2 revealed that rescuers (particularly those in SAR capacities) felt the greatest challenge to emergency responder support during this crisis was the effective and timely allocation of all available resources.  Large-scale resource allocation takes place on a high-level, inter-agency playing field, and experience in the areas of pre-planning and mutual aid benefit the actualization of large-scale resource allocation when a crisis comes along. Yet in Question 5 when respondents were asked what they wished they knew more about, they gravitated away from pre-planning and mutual aid, and towards hands-on, technical interests.

First responders are naturally action-oriented and drawn to practical topics – which is why they are responders in the first place.  But it is worth asking if rescuers themselves (despite their preference for more hands-on topics) are perhaps the key to creating the most viable solutions to their large-scale resource allocation challenges.

Emergency responders know the what, where, when, how and why of their job better than anyone else. But organizational systems expect administrators to direct the large-scale allocation of these responders and their resources despite what is often limited practical working knowledge. 

This survey demonstrated that there is a wealth of emergency response resources available for higher-level planning organizations to utilize.  It also demonstrated that, due to their intimate working knowledge, emergency responders themselves might be the ones positioned best to play a critical role in assisting higher-level organizations prepare for future crisis resource allocation.

Perhaps this is a case for that special breed of emergency responder who is also able to work in an administrative role – a crossover individual that keeps a foot in both camps and knows how to quickly navigate administrative minefields while moving resources effectively on the front line in the middle of an emergency.  The bottom line seems to be that stronger relationships are needed between planners and operational personnel.

Gathering enough feedback to take action is not an exciting job, but it is the best way to provide proof that can move multiple groups of people towards effective and lasting change.  Talk to your teammates and mutual aid partners – gather up their experiences and spend some time thinking critically about how you can be part of improving the processes that presented challenges during the Alberta Flood crisis.

We’re interested in hearing what your teams have to say about this issue – follow up with us on facebook.

More Resources For Emergency Responder Flood Education and Support

  • Our annual Flood Legacy Bursary offers applicants the opportunity to receive a free Swiftwater Rescue Technician Level 1 course. Our aim is to help smaller departments and organizations equip their members with the training they need to keep themselves and their communities safe in a flooding event.
  • Management of Water & Flood Incidents is designed for management and command personnel to support multi-agency pre-planning efforts.