211 is prepared to support the community when disaster strikes:
- 211 acts as a communication hub. One phone call (or chat) is all that is needed to get people to the right place, limiting the number of instances of misinformation and misdirection for those seeking support. 211 also prevents a large number of confusing help lines from being developed.
- 211 hosts a comprehensive database of resources and services. The need for this information during a disaster when available resources can change on a daily, or even hourly basis. New resources surface while others may become unavailable. 211 Information and Referral Specialist can also use this data to identify unmet needs and monitor the allocation of available resources.
- 211 Information and Referral Specialists are highly skilled in crisis intervention. Agencies and first responders can utilize 211 during a disaster, so they can focus their time on their work instead of on providing resources and information.
- 211 can expand the capacity of first responders by diverting calls from emergency responders during a disaster.
- One of the largest gaps that arises during a disaster is coordinating the influx of donation and volunteer offers of support that come in. In many cases, agencies do not have the capacity to respond, and helpers can feel discouraged when their offers are not taken up. 211 can coordinate these offers of help and support.
- 211’s infrastructure and network allows for the system to have extended capacity and reach during a disaster. Since the comprehensive database is online, it can be updated in one region where information is coming in, and provided in another region where information is going out.
As first responders start to withdraw following the initial response period, there are often weeks, and even months of recovery for local residents and communities. 211 Information and Referral Specialists can provide continued emotional support to callers’ post-disaster, connect them with services and meet new needs that may have surfaced because of the disaster.
211 is a critical piece of the community fabric – assisting citizens during this period of stress and uncertainty that continues well into recovery and rebuilding.
2013: Southern Alberta Floods
On June 20, 2013 southern Alberta was hit with torrential rain, leading to a number of different communities including Canmore, Calgary and High River declaring a state of emergency. This was quickly followed by mandatory evacuations leading to hundreds of people being displaced from their homes and communities. As people worked to make their way through this immensely stressful time, 211 Alberta was there to help them navigate their way forward.
From June to December 2013, 211 responded to 2,811 calls from those affected by the floods and got them connected with the supports and services they needed. The top three issues addressed were: Basic Needs (clothing, furniture), Financial Issues, and Shelter/Housing.
2016: Wood Buffalo Wildfires
On Sunday, May 1st 2016, a wildfire began in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. Due to high temperatures and strong winds, the fire grew quickly. On Tuesday, May 3rd 2016, the fire entered Fort McMurray, triggering the evacuation of more than 88,000 residents. On Wednesday, May 4th, Premier Rachel Notley declared a Provincial State of Emergency. Mandatory evacuation orders were in place for Fort McMurray, Anzac, Gregoire Lake Estates and Fort McMurray First Nation. Reception Centres were set up across the province including in Athabasca, Bonnyville, St. Paul, Edmonton, Calgary, Lac La Biche and many more communities. As the fire moved through the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, it resulted in more than 2400 homes and businesses being destroyed.
Through the response and recovery phases of the Wood Buffalo wildfires, 211 Alberta responded to 1314 calls and chats from those affected by the disaster. During the response phase, May 4 – 31, 1078 contacts were received with the top contact issues relating to donations, housing, and emergency stipends. During the recovery phase, June 1 – August 31, 236 contacts were received with the top contact issues relating to re-entry protocol, general information, and emergency stipends.
While 211 service was available in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, 211 service is not yet available across Alberta. In the response phase, evacuated residents of Fort McMurray were being displaced throughout the entire province of Alberta and beyond. Recognizing this barrier, on Wednesday, May 4th, the 211 Alberta Steering Committee worked together to ensure any one affected by the wildfires and subsequent evacuation could access support and get connected with services, regardless of where they were in Alberta.
The After-Action Report
Looking Towards the Future
From incidents across North America like Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the 2013 Southern Alberta Floods and most recently the 2016 Wildfires, 211 has proven its value in a disaster.
211’s ability to connect networks of information and respond to callers in crisis is the cornerstone of their daily work, positioning them to play an integral role in a community’s disaster management framework.
- 211’s data has the potential to play a key role in identifying trends of previous disaster response to help in shaping the response of future disasters.
- 211 can help build up sector capacity and build connections by linking community organizations together prior to disaster striking.
- There is potential for future integration of 211 with the Alberta Emergency Management Agency.