Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

They're ready to roll when disaster strikes

Red Cross team trained to help flood victims

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They're a year-round team of volunteers whose training and selflessness are rarely called into action -- but that's a good thing.

More than 600 people who are part of the Red Cross Disaster Response Team (DRT) in Manitoba are trained and ready to respond to those in need of assistance following disasters such as forest fires, house fires, tornadoes and floods. Volunteers are on-call 365 days a year to assist evacuees in securing basic needs -- food, clothing, shelter, first aid, emotional support and family reunification.

In many cases such as fires and tornadoes, the volunteers have little or no warning, but this year's flood has been a different story. For weeks, the Red River flood situation has been monitored and updated, giving the Red Cross and its volunteers plenty of time to formulate a plan.

Ian Seunarine has been assisting with that preparation. The St. Vital resident became a volunteer nearly one year ago after hearing a presentation about the agency at a conference. He now leads the DRT's logistics team. For many days, Seunarine has been working to make sure volunteers know their roles and helping to set up a make-shift headquarters out of which the Red Cross's flood response will be co-ordinated.

A first-time disaster response volunteer, he has also been in contact with suppliers to confirm that any equipment and supplies necessary will be available at the drop of a hat.

"For me personally, and I think for most of the people on the logistics team, we all feel that if we have the opportunity to use our skills to help people in disasters, you want to be part of that and be able to do that," explained Seunarine, a father of two, who works as a logistics manager at a local manufacturing firm.

Fellow volunteer Alvin Patten agreed. His family has faced disaster in the past, so Patten knows the helpless feeling that victims may experience.

"When you see people in need, you have a responsibility to help them," said Patten, who works in construction with Shorty's Fencing.

His employer has been understanding and supportive of Patten's commitment to the Red Cross.

A volunteer for five years now, Patten has assisted the agency with special events, but this year's flood will also be his first disaster response. With such a large number of volunteers, disaster management co-ordinator Amanda Herbert said it's difficult to get experience. On average, she said, 300 Manitobans are forced from their homes each year. With many days before the Red River is expected to crest, that number has already been surpassed.

"It's hard to get experience until there's something larger," she explained.

"This year we're going to try to pull in a bunch of people and get (them) experienced, because (the flood) is probably going to go on for a while and it will be in different areas of the province."

While Herbert said the Red Cross expects to have enough volunteers to deal with this year's flooding, that could change if the flood becomes worse than currently expected.

"We have a large number of volunteers but once we've tired those people out, then sometimes we have to find people who haven't been involved with the organization before. There is that potential.

"In 1997, they definitely used a lot of volunteers who hadn't previously been involved with the organization. It's not a '97 flood yet, so we're OK for now."

Anyone interested in assisting with future disasters can call 982-7330. Additional information about the agency and volunteering can be found by visiting www.redcross.ca/manitoba.

If you know a special volunteer who strives to make their community a better place to live, please contact Erin Madden at erinmadden@shaw.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 30, 2009 B4

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