Humanity at its finest

When the floods hit southern Alberta June 2013, my son sent a text “Sure glad our house is on a hill…and mom, how are we going to help?”  I text back “You work and send money son; I will go to Calgary and help.”

I wanted to help at the Stampede Grounds.  My son makes a living in Rodeo and the Stampede brings around 300 million dollars a year to the Calgary economy.  The saying “the Stampede will go on come hell or high water” took root and people got to work! The Calgary Stampede association hired equipment and people to work and pump water 24/7. They also utilized the volunteers who were already signed up to work at the stampede to lessen the toll on the volunteer pool that was needed to help the residents in need.  Within a few short days they were putting up the giant Ferris wheel!

I found YYC Helps and headed over to the Bowness Community Association Monday afternoon in my rubber boots, windows down in the truck wind blown hair and grubby clothes.  I walked in the office and said “YYC Helps says you have volunteer opportunities for me.”  Christina looks into my eyes and says, “You come back tomorrow morning and answer the phones in this office.” I walked out laughing and text my girlfriend, “Do I have telephones tattooed on my forehead?”  I thought I was grubby enough they’d send me to do some manual labor somewhere!

Michelle Dice, the Executive director had the clean-up running like a well-oiled machine.  As residents called in their requests for help, we dispatched the requested number of volunteers who were willing and able to fulfill the request. The Bowness Community Association complex was full of food, cleaning supplies, paramedics, EMT’s, EMR’s, firemen, City of Calgary flood relief personnel and a host of volunteers.  The police were in and out suggesting we send people in car pools, not each in their own vehicle; the number of vehicles were creating congestion issues and slowing down the movement of essential service personnel like sewer fixers, power fixers and garbage removal trucks.

During my time volunteering, over and over I was reminded of the value of answering the phone.  It adds dignity, elegance, compassion and assurance in the face of a disaster.

I also volunteered at Siksika Nation and in High River. While there I witnessed people working very hard to help others pick up the pieces of their lives and get moving forward again; humanity at its finest!

 

The Human Touch

In June 2013 the rains came, the rivers rose and kept rising.  Based on my interpretation of what I heard on the news the headwaters of Cougar Creek, the Elbow River, the Sheep River, the Highwood River, and the Kananaskis River which all empty into the Bow River, were in the eye of the storm.  

To view an image of the Bow River Basin click here.

My first job out of NAIT, was in Hydrology, right next to our neighbors River Engineering. We were jointly responsible for flood forecasting in 1974.  We had a “computer” (a funny looking gadget that sat by the facsimile machine) and a word processor.  That summer I was introduced to 100 year floods, a “Model” for prediction of inches of rainfall = runoff = rising rivers. 

I remember having telephones, rain gauges, passion and dedication.  The boys over in River Engineering had a “river engineering model” they used calculate runoff and predict flow rates.  Based on this information they said the river will peak at this time at this elevation.  They needed accurate rainfall measurements.  They had an adjustment for extra snow melt with the rainfall that they had previously built into the model basin acres at each elevation.

One of my jobs was to call the people who had weather stations every hour.  I got updated reports on how many inches of water their rain gauge measure since we had last spoke. I then passed that information along to the engineer utilizing the “Model”. I also took my turn receiving inbound calls and reporting our calculations to Alberta Disaster Services every hour.

The Oldman river system flooded the summer of 1974. I’ll never forget the lady who said “It is rainin’ BUCKETS, I can’t even empty that gauge quick enough - every 15 minutes isn’t quick enough!”  Another lady said “It’s just rainin’ cats and dogs.”  Their voices set off a sense of urgency.  The human touch was alive and well.

I was part of a team that was pretty pleased we had predicted (with accuracy) the time and height of the flood to hit Lethbridge within a couple hours and within a couple inches. I remember the guys telling the engineer who had built the “Model” not to get a swelled head because it was pretty simple to calculate potential runoff when water hit rock.  I was young and naïve back then but I was pretty impressed with our accuracy. 

I think in the 2013 storm, the river levels, the timing of the arrival and quantity of water in Medicine Hat was very accurate.  Sitting back and looking at the differences between 1974 to today, I ask if we’ve automated ourselves out of “urgency”?

I have family that has farmed land in a bend on the Peace River at Carcajou and it is a flood plain.  To get there, there is an ice bridge at Tompkins landing and in my lifetime that flood plain has been under water a few times caused by ice jams.  After every flood, my uncle who loved the river, rebuilt on a little higher ground.  In one way, he benefited from the flood because the silt left after the waters receded brought new nutrients and replenished his soil.  Although there were some years he had no crop, because it took the water so long to go away.  I learned a bit about floods.  When the level of the river drops, the water doesn’t always go away.  Every time it flooded the water got trapped and stayed, requiring a newly engineered drainage system and time.  The water seldom goes away as fast as it comes.  The last time I was home during a flood we moved 20,000 bushels of grain in 3 days.  We had to shovel the bottoms of the bins out by hand.  Every time a truck was full we’d go outside of the bin for a break and see the stick we’d stuck in the edge of the water submerged and the water another foot higher on the flat.  The fast rising waters renewed our resolve to keep on shoveling. Ice jams present a different kind of river engineering challenge.

When the floods hit southern Alberta, June 2013, my son sent a text “Sure glad our house is on a hill…and mom, how are we going to help?”  I text back “You work and send money son; I will go to Calgary and help.”