Preparing for winter emergencies: How we help during power outages

Guest post by Shelly Makrugin, Alberta Communications Advisor

As winter approaches, along with the annual threat of snow storms and extended power outages, the Canadian Red Cross is ready to help, just as they did recently when thousands of Calgarians were plunged into darkness.

On Thanksgiving weekend, an underground electrical fire caused power cuts to a large section of downtown Calgary.

When it became clear the outage would last several days, Jane Marston, health manager for an apartment building in the affected area, knew she needed help. The building housed more than 115 people, many of them elderly and vulnerable. Reaching out for assistance, Marston soon had 12 Red Cross volunteers helping about 85 residents who remained home in the 25-storey building during the five-day power cut.

“It was phenomenal,” Marston says of the volunteer response. “They were very compassionate, approachable and consistent in (your) care.” The volunteers spent days at the building. They hauled 112 flats of water up 25 flights of stairs and went door-to-door checking on those who remained, ensuring they were okay. They gave out garbage bags for spoiled food and provided emotional comfort to both tenants and staff.”
Volunteers help out during power outage

Volunteers from Acklands Grainger, and Red Cross disaster management staff Vince Bodnar (centre).

“It took a lot of pressure and stress off of our staff,” Debbie Newman, executive director of the local Drop-In Centre added.  The Red Cross volunteers “were very well trained. They were accommodating. They knew exactly what to do.”

The building staff even managed to cook two turkeys in a gas stove and Red Cross volunteers delivered hot Thanksgiving dinners to tenants.

During the outage, volunteers from Red Deer, Lethbridge and Medicine Hat joined their Calgary colleagues. After power was restored, they were also stationed at 21 downtown buildings, as thousands of Calgarians began returning home. Volunteers offered safety information, referrals, garbage bags, and cleaning supplies.

Marston says, throughout the emergency, the volunteers were “quietly supportive” and “invaluable.” She wouldn’t hesitate to seek their assistance again.

Here are some tips on how you can prepare for power outages this winter. 
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