Alberta social workers consider network for co-ordinated disaster response

Experts in the social work field are looking at forming a province-wide network that will help them respond to future natural disasters in Alberta.

Need emerges for social workers after initial crisis subsides

Smoke and flames from the wildfires erupt behind a car on the highway near Fort McMurray, Alta., on May 7, 2016. Social work researchers in the province say a co-ordinated response strategy could help social workers assist those affected by disaster. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

Experts in the social work field are looking at forming a province-wide network that will help them respond to future natural disasters in Alberta. 

When a major disaster hits — like the Fort McMurray wildfires or the 2013 Southern Alberta floods — it throws an entire community into a scramble. After emergency workers have responded to the initial crisis, the need emerges for social workers to help out in areas such as addictions and child welfare.

Julie Drolet teaches social work at the University of Calgary. (University of Calgary)

Julie Drolet, who teaches social work at the University of Calgary, is one of the people looking at organizing what she calls an "Alberta Resilient Communities Network."

"We know that social workers are playing an increasingly important role in supporting individuals and families during disaster events because they provide key services and programs in affected communities," Drolet told the Calgary Eyeopener

"We see a need for social workers to come together to discuss what they've learned during recent disaster events, in order to build awareness, to start building capacity and to support long-term recovery here in Alberta."

Building connections

Drolet said a more co-ordinated network would have been beneficial during past disasters in the province. 

During the Fort McMurray wildfires, Drolet said she and a number of other researchers were asked for information about how to best support children and youth who were coping with the disaster. 

Drolet said they were able to draw on the expertise of social workers in Australia, who were experienced in dealing with bush fire evacuations. 

A few years earlier, during the floods in southern Alberta in 2013, researchers found that building community connections help the long-term recovery in affected areas.

Workshop planned

On Thursday, researchers will discuss how to best develop a network between those who work to support individuals and families when a disaster takes place.

It's essential for social workers themselves to be personally prepared for a disaster, including knowing how to respond if their agency or organization is impacted by the event, Drolet said.

"To our knowledge, do date, there really has not been much work done in this area in Alberta," she said.

Anyone interested in learning more can register for a Thursday morning webinar by emailing

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener