University of Calgary

University rises to challenge posed by hundreds of evacuees who stayed in residences

UToday HomeAugust 2, 2013

By Andrea Kingwell

A more typical summer schedule has returned for director Randy Maus and the rest of the Residence Services staff, after the last of the flood evacuees left campus last weekend. Photo by Riley BrandtA more typical summer schedule has returned for director Randy Maus and the rest of the Residence Services staff, after the last of the flood evacuees left campus last weekend. Photo by Riley BrandtFrom the earliest hours of the unprecedented flood in June, it became clear that vacant student housing on the University of Calgary campus would be essential to the city’s emergency response, and equally evident that staff and volunteers were up to the challenge.

“With hundreds of flood evacuees on campus over several weeks, there was an incredible amount of work, extra shifts, cooking and cleaning required to care for our unexpected guests,” says Randy Maus, director of Residence Services. “And not once did someone hesitate to pitch in and help out; it makes me incredibly proud.”

The call to house displaced people came from the Calgary Emergency Management Agency (CEMA) just hours after the Bow and Elbow Rivers flooded their banks on that Thursday. CEMA co-ordinated the effort while Maus and his team tracked how many beds could be made available.

Very soon the busloads began to arrive, and not long after that the kitchens in the dining centre were in full swing catering three square meals a day. Meanwhile, work was underway to clean and prepare additional rooms outside the usual summer residences in Yamnuska Hall – a job that typically takes most of the summer.

From the moment there were evacuees on campus, there were volunteers there to help, many from the faculties of nursing, medicine, social work and kinesiology who ensured evacuees had the medication, medical care and support they needed. Pitching in to help with front desk and housekeeping duties were teams from the University of Alberta. 

In the days that followed, the university welcomed hundreds of RCMP officers, providing not only beds but also meeting rooms and a muster point for operations outside the city.

And by early July, 150 evacuees arrived from High River, including families with young children and temporary foreign workers with limited English. Translators were called in from across campus to help with French, Spanish and Mandarin-speaking guests, and other volunteers co-ordinated impromptu arts and crafts programs for kids, and organized makeshift summer camps and movie nights.

With nearly 750 volunteers stepping up from the campus community, managing their time became a job in itself. Julie Punt had worked with Risk Management, Safety and Security on campus before, and came on as the volunteer co-ordinator.

“We couldn’t believe the response,” she says. “We had students, staff, faculty and their families coming out to help, so we put them to work as busses arrived, providing welcome packages, doing the paperwork, and we even organized four bus trips down to Siksika Nation to help them sort donations as well.”

For some evacuees, Punt says, it was all just too much. One 94-year-old High River woman had moved five times before finally arriving at the University of Calgary. “If you can believe it, all she was worried about was her 72-year-old son with a heart condition,” Punt says. “We took her and several other evacuees to the Stampede barbecue on campus – and I know that little bit of normalcy and the warm welcome helped a lot.”

Christie Ward, a liaison officer with the province who worked on campus to assist with the flood recovery effort, was also impressed with the university’s response. “I know these displaced folks really appreciated having a nice, safe place to be. Everyone was so helpful and friendly, it made a tough situation a lot better,” she says.

Ward says one girl, newly arrived from El Salvador and evacuated with her family from High River, even took part in the Dinos basketball camp, as did several other kids, with camp fees waived for evacuees.

As the last of the evacuees returned to High River over the weekend – either to their own homes or to interim housing set up by the province – Randy Maus and his team in Residence Services is just now resuming a more typical summer schedule and workload, housing and feeding summer guests and readying for students' return in the fall.

“It was a team effort of a magnitude I’ve never experienced before,” Maus says. “We prepare for emergencies, of course, but this crisis put us to the test and we should truly be proud of how we pulled together and performed.”

By the numbers:

  • 1,186 evacuees housed on campus
  • 10,401 bed nights provided
  • 480 RCMP officers, up to 180 at a time
  • 100 staff involved in the effort
  • 750 volunteers recruited
  • 150 High River residents
  • Six weeks of emergency response

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