Feature: UCalgary Social Work Students Bolster Disaster Preparedness and Resilience in an Edmonton Community

By: Leslie Salgado Arzuaga

As part of the We’re Ready! Plus (WR! +) practicum with the Transforming the Field Education Landscape (TFEL) project, Social Work students Tegan Nelson and Winkie Lau have helped the Edmonton community of Inglewood to strengthen its preparedness to face and recover from disasters.

After being trained to facilitate the workshops and equipped with the Community Resilience Model (CRM), Tegan and Winkie took the WR! + workshop to the field. They looked to facilitate the design and implementation of the community disaster plan and foster their social networks and capacity. Under the guidance of the Eyes-High Post-Doctoral Scholar, Dr. Evalyna Bogdan, they conducted a one-day workshop on June 18 at the Inglewood MAC Islamic School. The six community participants got involved in interactive activities focused on hazard and evacuation maps, communication plans, and a community capacity inventory.

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. 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”. Lauren McConnell, Director of Buildings and Grounds, Inglewood Community League of Edmonton

For the students, the opportunity to facilitate a workshop and dive into disaster preparedness constituted a unique chance provided by WR! + practicum and training with TFEL. Indeed, Dr. Julie Drolet, TFEL Project Director, and her colleagues have 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.

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. 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 open!”.  Tegan Nelson, SW student

Inglewood is home to approximately 7,000 of Edmonton’s residents, where approximately 43% of households earn less than $30,0000 per year. The students feel happy to see the results of the pre- and post-workshop survey, where community members confirmed the effectiveness of the training. 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”. Winkie Lau, SW student

We’re Ready! +

The We’re Ready! Community Disaster Preparedness approach was co-developed with community members from High River after the 2013 Alberta flood. In 2022, as part of her postdoctoral research, Dr. Evalyna Bogdan and her supervisor Dr. Julie Drolet transformed WR! to WR! + as a practicum or research assistantship (RA) opportunity for students.

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 the SW field education is in crisis, partly due to a shortage of quality practicum placements and insufficient integration of research and practice.


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