Emergency training in Virden brings out many volunteers

“I can’t thank you enough. I was expecting about five people!” –WEG’s Marc Savy

They asked for volunteers and they got them. The Westman Emergency Group (WEG) invited people to a public training session last week and were surprised and thrilled by the turnout.

So was emergency consultant Shelley Napier, who spoke at the event: “Fantastic! I was expecting maybe 10 and we had 30 and they were so knowledgeable.”

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Many in the TOGP meeting hall on May 15 were on deck when the 2016 blizzard descended on Westman, and they learned valuable lessons that they carry forward into the new WEG. Volunteers like Len Collier, Joyce Davies, Carol Polk and Joanne Whyte have returned to offer their services along with many new WEG recruits.

Napier was impressed by the useful skills in the room.

“With the expertise in this room – clergy, nurses, food services, media experts – this is probably one of the most equipped groups I’ve been able to speak to in a community.” And she’s spoken to many groups in her role as an independent emergency consultant to municipalities.

Napier is now working with the Town of Virden and the RMs of Wallace-Woodworth, Sifton and others to hone their emergency preparedness and ensure everyone knows their roles.

In launching the first training session for volunteers, she outlined the five teams that will be needed to handle any disaster involving evacuations:

  1. Reception Centre: The first people to help evacuees, they meet and greet, register each evacuee, and provide direction.
  2. Food Services: Providing meals and snacks to evacuees or stranded travelers, they ensure a well-run kitchen that complies with strict food handling guidelines.
  3. Lodging Services: When motels and hotels are full, volunteers arrange alternate places to stay: billets, school gyms, community centres, etc.
  4. Clothing Services: Sometimes evacuees arrive with only the clothes on their backs. This team helps them get what they need.
  5. Personal Services: General helpers for everything else like lost glasses, forgotten medications, toys and games for the kids, housing for pets, and counselling for those who need help coping.

The subject of displaced pets generated a lively discussion.

Napier said, “One of the lessons learned in the Fort McMurray fires was you have to have a plan for pets, because so many died in that disaster.”

The Province of Manitoba requires emergency groups to have a pet care plan, starting with a definition of what is a pet (reptiles? miniature horses? or just dogs and cats?) and where pets should be housed in an evacuation.

It’s one of many scenarios WEG coordinators Marc Savy and Matt Hipwell will have to mull over as they continue to work on the group’s revised emergency plan.

Both were on hand at last Wednesday’s session, listening to participants and starting the process of matching up skill sets with roles.

Savy told the attendees, “We know that when there’s an emergency, we’ll have hundreds of volunteers. We need folks like you to be the bosses, to coordinate all these people.”

© Virden Empire-Advance