July 15, 2022

UCalgary social work students bolster disaster preparedness and resilience in an Edmonton community

Tegan Nelson and Winkie Lau take TFEL's We're Ready Plus! to the field
Group photo of Winkie Lau, Tegan Nelson, Dr. Evalyna Bogdan, and Adam Conway.
(L-R) Winkie Lau, Tegan Nelson, Dr. Evalyna Bogdan, and Adam Conway, Emergency Management Team Lead, University of Alberta.. Courtesy of the workshop facilitators

University of Calgary Faculty of Social Work students Tegan Nelson and Winkie Lau have helped the Edmonton community of Inglewood strengthen its disaster preparedness as part of the We’re Ready! Plus (WR! +) practicum with the Transforming the Field Education Landscape (TFEL) project.

Following training with field instructor Dr. Evalyna Bogdan, in facilitating each of the 10 activities of the workshop, Nelson and Lau took the WR! + workshop to the field,  conducting a one-day workshop on June 18 at the Inglewood MAC Islamic School. Six community participants were involved in interactive activities focused on hazard and evacuation maps, communication plans, and a community capacity inventory. The workshop encouraged these community champions to turn their brand-new knowledge into action.

“By the end of the day, people shared contact information to carry on the conversation. We discussed ideas like forming a community disaster readiness committee and planning events to create emergency kits and build stronger social ties throughout Inglewood,” says Lauren McConnell, Director of Buildings and Grounds, Inglewood Community League of Edmonton. “The workshop as a whole was very engaging and interesting, but the final exercise showed that people really were eager to keep the discussion going beyond the workshop.”

For the students, the opportunity to facilitate a workshop and dive into disaster preparedness constituted a unique chance provided by the WR! + practicum and training with TFEL. Dr. Julie Drolet, TFEL Project Director, and her colleagues found that Social Work practitioners lack the necessary education and training to reflect the complexities of community disaster management and field education in disaster contexts. The WR! + practicum training aims to address that gap.

Four community members taking part in disaster preparedness training

During the workshop, participants prepared map evacuation routes and muster Points, among other activities.

Tegan Nelson

“Prior to this practicum, I was not aware of disaster management. It’s never been in the forefront of my mind. It was an exciting experience acquiring much more knowledge about disaster preparation and responsiveness, not only at the individual level but at the community level,” says Nelson. “I have seen the complexity of this aspect, especially through the lens of social work. WR! + fills a need, and it is a transferable program because it is easy to work with and it is easy to implement in any community. My eyes have been opened!”

Inglewood is home to approximately 7,000 of Edmonton’s residents, where approximately 43% of households earn less than $30,0000 per year. The WR!+ workshop was available for free, the MAC Islamic School generously offered space, and the Inglewood Community League provided food and drinks. The students were happy to see the results of the pre-and post-workshop survey, where community members confirmed the effectiveness of the training.

“It was a wonderful experience for me as well. I met some amazing community members and learned some new things about disaster readiness,” says Inglewood resident Amina Shaikh.  

 The future social workers think this kind of initiative is particularly needed in low-income communities.

“In one of the online-training modules that we completed, called Social, Vulnerabilities and Disasters, we learned that people from the low-economic groups may experience barriers to accessing the resources available for recovery, apart from the material resources they can also experience, for example, some language barriers,” says Lau.

We’re Ready! +

The We’re Ready! Community Disaster Preparedness approach was co-developed by Dr. Evalyna Bogdan with community members from High River after the 2013 Alberta flood. WR! has been implemented successfully three times and as a pilot online train-the-trainer. In 2022, as part of her postdoctoral research supported by the Eyes-High Post-Doctoral Match-Funding Fellowship, Dr. Bogdan and her supervisor, Dr. Julie Drolet, transformed WR! to WR! + as a practicum or research assistantship (RA) opportunity for students. The Plus component refers to additional training on the topics of Gender-Based Analysis Plus, social vulnerability, community engagement, the Community Resiliency Model (CRM) for wellness skills after stress and trauma, and Green Social Work.

WR!+ is part of the TFEL Project (2019-2025) at the Faculty of Social Work, University of Calgary. A significant aspect of TFEL is identifying sustainable field education models, especially those that address practicum shortages, interprofessional practice, research-based practice, use of technology and simulation, and anti-racist and decolonizing perspectives. New models of SW practicums are needed because SW field education is in crisis, partly due to a shortage of quality practicum placements and insufficient integration of research and practice.

For more information, visit www.wereready.org.

Would you like to become a field instructor? There are many personal and professional benefits for you and your organization. Benefits include up to 20 ACSW Category A credits, access to the UCalgary library database, and a discount on some professional development workshops offered by the Faculty of Social Work. For more information on becoming a field instructor, please contact Field Education Co-ordinator Stephanie Grantstephanie.grant2@ucalgary.ca