Disasters can occur at any time and in any place. They often bring great death and destruction in their train, and because they are unpredictable, they are all the more devastating. Canada is fortunate that emergency preparedness experts at all levels of government have well-organised, definitive plans, in which The Salvation Army plays an important part. But, despite the armies of trained personnel ready to go into action, very often the best we can do is to mitigate the effects of a disaster, and deal with its aftermath.
Whenever disaster strikes, the presence of Salvation Army personnel is expected. Often assigned a specific role by Emergency Preparedness authorities, such as counselling, registration and identification, transportation, emergency housing, feeding or clothing, The Salvation Army is well equipped to handle any demands made of it in a disciplined and resourceful manner.
We were there when the earthquake devastated Mexico; we have counselled and comforted grieving relatives of those lost in air disasters at Gander, Newfoundland; Locherbie (Scotland), and at Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia; we worked tirelessly during Manitoba’s devastating flood and Eastern Canada’s ice storm, and we assisted with emergency relief operations overseas in Rwanda, Albania, Kosovo, and, more recently, Honduras and El Salvador and, of course, in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
Our emergency response unit from Vancouver supported searchers for a ten-year old girl, abducted in Surrey, BC last year. When the child was later found murdered, Salvation Army public relations staff helped the family deal with the media, and the officer (pastor) of the local Salvation Army church officiated at the funeral. We were at Winnipeg’s south perimeter bridge shortly after a double-fatality vehicle crash occurred. Salvation Army personnel assisted at fires in Vancouver, Winnipeg and Orillia and, in February, our disaster response personnel from Lethbridge, Calgary and Edmonton were on hand to assist people displaced as a result of the train derailment chemical spill at Red Deer. Within hours of a tornado striking the Green Acres Trailer Camp near Pine Lake, Alberta, Salvation Army personnel were on the scene. And at Campbellton, Newfoundland, we were there for six days, ministering to family members and to those searching for the body of a man who accidentally drowned.
In the early hours of February 22, flames engulfed a recently renovated multi-unit dwelling on Ottawa’s Arlington Street, leaving 50 people homeless. In -22� C weather, 60 fire-fighters, their clothing and gloves stiff from frozen spray, battled the blaze for 9 hours before bringing it under control. From start to finish, Salvation Army workers were on the scene, assisting fire-fighters and making its Ottawa Booth Centre a reception area, offering emergency lodging and feeding for those who had lost their homes, and everything they owned, in the blaze.
The Army’s unique, international, quasi-military structure enables it to move quickly into action. Like no other civilian body, it can mobilise officer-personnel, resources, volunteers and financial support from the public at large, and bring them to bear where the need is greatest. And what motivates its humanitarian services? Love for God, allied with a practical concern for the needs of humanity.