When speaking about communities affected by natural disasters like the 2013 Alberta floods or last year’s Fort McMurray wildfires, people often throw around words like “recovery” and “resilience.” These words seem singularly appropriate, but they also suggest these events are almost momentary issues — unpleasant blips that a community will spring back from, like a squeezed foam ball.
Julie Drolet, PhD, Faculty of Social Work researcher at the University of Calgary, uses those terms in a much more nuanced way, reflecting her deep understanding of the issue. “I think increasingly the thinking is that communities are never really the same after a disaster,” says Drolet, who is based at the faculty’s Edmonton campus. “I think that increasingly the feeling is you return to a new ‘normal’ — a different ‘normal.’ An experience like that is more like journey, you arrive somewhere else and things will never really be exactly the same as they were.”
Increasingly important roles for social workers
Drolet is one of the leaders of The Rebuilding Lives Post-Disaster Research Partnership and Alberta Resilient Communities Project, which are both focused on the realities and challenges of disaster recovery for individuals and communities. Building on recent research, it is evident that social workers are playing an increasing role in disaster preparedness, emergency relief, and long-term recovery. On March 30, in partnership with the Alberta College of Social Workers, Drolet is organizing a special workshop called Social Work Connections for Disaster Recovery funded by a new SSHRC Connection grant. This province-wide discussion aims to share Alberta and international research on disasters and community recovery.
Disasters as the new 'normal'
The goal of the workshop is to build new connections to help social workers prepare for disaster and community recovery and to build capacity across Alberta for the next disaster — which she says should really be part of what she describes as our "new normal."
“We’ve seen it over the last few years,” says Drolet. “Climate change is contributing to natural disasters like the wildfires and the floods we experienced. Most experts believe this will happen again so we need to be ready, and social workers play a key role before and during a disaster and in long-term recovery, which can take much longer than people think.”
Building a disaster-ready network in Alberta
Social Workers attending the March 30 workshop in Calgary will learn about disaster recovery in Alberta and internationally and hear from Alberta and international researchers who will share their findings drawing from provincial, national, and international disaster recovery efforts. The presentations will highlight the role of social workers in prevention, preparation, emergency relief, and long-term recovery. E-prep (emergency preparedness) skill-building will be the focus of the afternoon sessions along with a forum to discuss a future network with the Alberta Resilient Communities Project. The workshop will feature the realities and challenges of disaster recovery for individuals and the community across the lifespan, discuss "green social work" approaches, and build emergency preparedness skills.