Kent Harrison Emergency Social Services sat down with The Observer to discuss the selfless and dedicated work they do on behalf of the communities of Agassiz and Harrison. The volunteer-based provincially funded program deals in emergency social services and their main goal is to help people within the community for 72 hours after a disaster has forcibly removed them from their homes. The organization provides, food, clothing, shelter and toiletries, as well as trauma support for individuals who have been affected by disaster.
“Every municipality is mandated to have an emergency program and emergency social services is part of the emergency program,” said KHESS Coordinator Pierre Groenenboom.
The organization has been around for a long time according to Groenenboom and it was started by a group of hard working people.
“It had a group of a dozen or so people at one time and then the group collapsed and there was no emergency social services,” he said.
Four years ago, Groenenboom, took the initiative and responded to an ad in the paper and got the program rolling, which is strictly volunteer-based.
For a couple of years he handled operations solo until a couple of volunteers joined up, but now they’re down to two volunteers again, which can be quite demanding, when disaster does strike.
Groenenboom describes a typical call.
“I’ll get a call from fire dispatch in Chilliwack and the call will be initiated by Gerald (referring to Agassiz’s Deputy Fire Chief Gerald Basten), so that’s a typical thing and most of the time it’s a fire. A person has had a fire, their house has burned down and they don’t have anywhere to sleep, they need food and they need some clothing because their clothing has been burnt and there is smoke damage, etc…,” he told The Observer.
Dispatch will then explain the situation to Groenenboom and he will phone the Emergency Coordination Centre in Victoria and if they find that it’s within their mandate they will issue KHESS a task number which is the same process for Search and Rescue, From there KHESS will contact their vendors and hook people up with resources.
“Right now everything is in Chilliwack, we’ve been trying very hard to get a few hotels in Harrison and we’re going to work on that this year,” he said.
After the initial 72 hours, people have to find other accommodations, but occasionally if the situation warrants, Groenenboom and his crew might extend the timeframe to help settle a distressed individual who needs a bit more time.
“Really, it’s a short timeframe for people to get on their feet, and to either start talking with other agencies and to get family support. We can give them a few brochures to help guide them through the process, but we’re just there to hold their hand for those three days and get them up and going,” he said.
That initial 72 time period is crucial.
“It’s deemed to be enough time for the person to recover from the incident, get some sleep, get some food and give them a full day where they can make phone calls and contacts and maybe an extra day to follow up on administration and get their finances back in order.”
Sometimes victims are at a disadvantage when disaster strikes over the weekend and they don’t have those important business days to get their finances in order.
Deputy Fire Chief Gerald Basten joined the discussion….
“If someone has insurance and they have a place that a family member will take care of them then we may only provide them with a one night stay in a hotel,” said Basten. “In some incidences the house doesn’t burn down, they might for example have a carbon monoxide alarm go off and they just have to verify that there’s no carbon monoxide in the house by morning, so that’s going to be a one night stay.”
The service doesn’t discriminate, it provides for “displaced residents,” whether it be from a fire or collateral damage. It is clearly a necessary service with the number of calls they attended in 2016. KHESS had a busy 2016 assisting 43 persons from 15 families in Agassiz, Harrison Hot Springs, and Seabird Island that had to be evacuated from their homes.
“It’s a huge service to the community — it can be hugely traumatic, not just for the adults but for the kids, if you have nowhere to go,” said Basten. “And, Pierre, through the KHESS program is providing that level of comfort for up to 72 hours for someone to get their feet back on the ground.”
The program is a joint program between the two municipalities, funded by the two local governments and it falls under the guidelines of emergency management B.C. and all cost incurred is charged to emergency management B.C., except for the volunteers, who work free of charge.
“The Province takes care of the bill and we provide the service,” says Groenenboom.
The group is currently looking for volunteers of all skills and capacities. A dozen volunteers would be optimal, according to Groenenboom and Basten, who maintain that a lot of areas go untouched because of time constraints.
“There’s so many other services that could be explored and investigated and offered with the addition of more volunteers — it’s not just about responding to incidents, there’s so many support jobs that are done in the background such as food prep work, paperwork, inventory and planning, contracting, and getting vendors lined up.”
For those interested in honing their presentation skills, there will be opportunities to bring education and awareness to the community to inform people about kits they should have in case disaster hits and other areas in the emergency program.
“If we have a large disaster in this area and a large number of people are displaced it would be great to have a large number of volunteers to handle different aspects of the emergency, even just to have someone who can take care of the pets that come in,” said Groenenboom. “We’re looking at all sides of it, we’re looking at seniors, adults, we’re looking at families.” Red Cross also provides comfort kits for people, which includes toiletries, a necessity that is often overlooked until it’s unavailable according to the boys over at KHESS.
Information about Emergency Social Services can be found at www.ess.bc.ca and applications for volunteers to join Kent Harrison Emergency Social Services can be found at http://www.district.kent.bc.ca/dh-emergency-services.html, or by sending Pierre an email at email@example.com.