MacLean is based in Prince Albert as a senior manager with 17 years experience at the Red Cross. She is also the Provincial Lead for Disaster Management in Saskatchewan.
On Nov. 3 she left for three weeks to join 5,000 volunteers as they labored to bail out the struggling Big Apple. On Monday she returned.
“I spent 21 days in New York,” MacLean said.
She went to provide shelter support and managed a family shelter for 100 people on Staten Island.
The Canadian and American Red Cross regularly lend workers when there is a dire need across the boarder.
While challenging, the experience was no hardship for MacLean.
“I mean I work for a humanitarian organization. It’s what I do. It’s what I always wanted to do,” she said.
“It was sort of one of the things on my bucket list.”
While it was her first time traveling to aid the American Red Cross, she has attended numerous disasters in Canada.
“We’re busy, we have lots of responses, even in this province alone, we have lots of responses, between forest fires and floods. I’ve also been to BC twice for forest fires.”
What she noticed immediately was the universality of the experience of those struck by a natural disaster.
“What people go through is the same … the impact that disasters have on people are the same, it doesn’t matter where you are. The impacts that you see are similar, the emotions, those types of things,” MacLean said.
“The American Red Cross has unbelievable volunteers … people will drop everything and go to where they need to, to help out. To get 5,000 people to show up at the drop of a hat is a pretty good thing, is a really good thing.”
“I couldn’t believe how generous people were. When you think of how many people were impacted. Like a million people, impacted by no power. And how quickly they were able to get the city of New York up and functioning again, that’s amazing. That’s amazing to me. I mean we had a power outage this summer that impacted over 100,000 people. And things got going pretty quickly, but that was 100,000 people. Think about a million people, with the potential for snowfall,” she said.
It was not only the immensity of the disaster in New York, but of the aid response, that interested MacLean.
“American Red Cross responses are big, big responses,” she said.
Canada’s responses are generally smaller, but MacLean saw an opportunity to learn and bring that knowledge back north of the 49th parallel.
“The more experience that you can get in those large, large scale disasters, I think the better.” - Kim MacLean
“I’ve been interested in finding out how they provide services and what those services look like and if there is any comparison with the work we do,” she said.
“It was a giant operation, 5,000 volunteers. We’ve never done anything to that extent, so it’s always good to be a part of that and see how they operate,” MacLean said.
Overall she said the types of services were very similar.
It confirmed some of the things Canada’s Red Cross does really well, such as how it recruits and trains volunteers.
She noted that the American Red Cross also deploys nurses and mental health professionals. She sees how they could make use of mental health professionals in the Canada as well.
It was also a great opportunity for MacLean from a professional development perspective to better prepare her for any large-scale disasters that could strike within Canada’s boarders.
“I wanted to see what we would do in a really big, big event. I mean we’re all talking and planning for the big event that might happen with the earthquake on the BC coast line, so it’s really important that we think about what and how we can respond,” she said.
“The more experience that you can get in those large, large scale disasters, I think the better.”
Beyond tactics and large-scale disaster management training, what she has brought home with her is the strength of people.
“What always stands out is how resilient people are after an event. You know, you lose everything, right. You lose it all and you almost loose you life and they still … are generous, they want to help each other out.”
She recalls how families who were staying in her shelter would return and tell her tales of stranger’s generosity.
“Some of the people … they weren’t able to stay in their homes, so they were living in a shelter. They were going back daily to their homes to sort of pick through and sift through what they could save … they’d start picking through, start cleaning up -- immediately people would come and say, ‘Can we help?’ There were a lot of people that just went right to those neighbourhoods and were ready to just role up their sleeves and do that work.”
“It’s always the people, it’s always the people that stay with you.”