Emergency Disaster Services - Salvation Army Canada

Emergency Disaster Services


The Salvation Army’s first major disaster response operation in North America was in 1900 after a devastating, unnamed hurricane hit Galveston, Texas. The city, sustaining extensive property damage, was virtually destroyed. The hurricane killed more than 8,000 people and obliterated more than 3,600 homes, nearly half the city. Salvation Army officers from across the country were sent to the disaster site to bring comfort, to offer counselling, to provide practical aid, and to help in any way they could. 

In Canada, The Salvation Army’s emergency disaster services (EDS) program began back in December 1917 in response to the Halifax, N.S. disaster. The Salvation Army dispatched personnel from across the country to assist with relief efforts that lasted for months. In addition to caring for the practical needs of those impacted, such as food and clothing, Salvation Army officers provided emotional and spiritual support to responders. “We do not know how we would have gotten along without them,” wrote R.T. MacIlreith, chairman of the relief committee.

Present Day

Today, the Army’s EDS has grown into an international network involving thousands of trained personnel worldwide, many of whom are volunteers. EDS personnel respond to incidents of various sizes and scopes. In keeping with its holistic ministry, the Army provides support that meets the immediate, as well as long term, physical, emotional and spiritual needs of disaster survivors and responders.

The Army’s established and well-rehearsed emergency protocol allows the organization to deliver fast, efficient service to first responders as well as those impacted. The Salvation Army endeavours to ease human suffering wherever it is found and draws on a wide range of resources that rapidly shift into action when a disaster strikes.  The Salvation Army’s capability and experience are proven. Whether a local incident or a major disaster, EDS personnel are often among the first to arrive on the scene and the last to depart.

The frequency and impact of natural disasters is on the rise around the world. Earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, forest fires, tornadoes, ice storms and severe rain storms are happening more often than ever before. The Red Shield continues to be a symbol of hope and compassion; of immediate aid, psychological support and spiritual counsel to individuals and families whose lives have been disrupted or shattered by forces beyond their control.

In May 2016, when raging wildfires caused catastrophic damage and triggered the evacuation of Fort McMurray, Alta., The Salvation Army was immediately on the scene, providing food, hydration and emotional support to those fighting the fire. In addition, EDS personnel continued to support those evacuated throughout the province and beyond, and was a crucial part of the re-entry phase for months following. While people tried to resume some sense of “normal,” the Army provided food, clothing, gift cards, furniture vouchers, as well as emotional and spiritual support and critical incident stress management.

Profile of Response and Recovery Services

The Salvation Army provides numerous disaster relief services. Since each disaster is unique and devastating in the way it impacts the lives of individuals and communities, The Salvation Army’s emergency and disaster response is community based, varying from place to place based upon the community’s situation and the magnitude of the incident.

The Salvation Army has the ability to provide both immediate emergency assistance and long-term recovery help. Emergency response services are activated on short notice according to an agreed-upon notification procedure, while long-term recovery is strategically planned in response to the situation, through working and partnering with many other community entities.

As one of Canada’s major emergency relief organizations, The Salvation Army is often assigned specific roles by emergency preparedness authorities. Even with the ability to be flexible and to respond based upon the community’s situation, there are several basic services that The Salvation Army offers. These services form the core of The Salvation Army’s emergency disaster services program.

  • Emotional and spiritual care
  • Crisis intervention
  • Food and hydration services
  • Shelter and reception centre support
  • Donations management
  • Emergency financial assistance
  • Clean up and reconstruction
  • Emergency communication (SATERN)

The Salvation Army has developed a national disaster training program (NDTP), a detailed emergency response training program whereby personnel are trained in every aspect of Salvation Army emergency response. Only pre-trained, pre-registered personnel are called on during an emergency or disaster response.

Visit the Government of Canada’s Get Prepared site (www.GetPrepared.ca) for information on how you and your family can be better prepared.