Last year saw record-breaking wildfires on the West Coast and unprecedented rainfall caused flooding in cities across the country. During catastrophic events such as these, insurance companies, like Gore Mutual, are there offering much-needed support to those that had been impacted. While on the ground, we always see another organization on site helping everyone in need – the Canadian Red Cross.

As one of the country’s leading humanitarian charities, the Canadian Red Cross has been assisting Canadians for more than 120 years. In 2016 alone, they helped nearly 150,000 people. Sara Falconer is the Director of Digital Communications for the Canadian Red Cross. We spoke with her about the work the organization does during times of disaster, the value of social media and more.

GO MAGAZINE: What does an average day on the job look like for you?

SARA FALCONER: As Director of Digital Communications for Canadian Red Cross, I’m responsible for our digital communications strategy and team, which covers content both on our website and social media. In non-disaster times, that means sharing information about emergency preparedness and domestic programs such as first aid and water safety, refugee arrivals and our work to help communities around the world.

When we’re responding to disasters, our focus shifts to supporting the operation and getting the most current and accurate information to the people who have been affected. For my team, that means working around the clock to update the website and answer thousands of inquiries on our social media channels, especially Facebook and Twitter. Particularly since the 2016 fires in Fort McMurray, this is where many evacuees will reach out to us first rather than by phone or in person. My team also visits the field to meet with people who have been affected and share their stories via photos, videos and blog posts. Our donors want to see how their contributions are making a difference, and this is one of the ways we demonstrate that impact.

The Red Cross is often first on site at catastrophes. What are the greatest needs facing people when you arrive?

Our priority is to meet the immediate needs of the people who have been affected by the disaster, but that varies depending on the situation and individuals. Food, water, clothing and shelter are often needed right away. Rather than collecting donations of these goods, which can be inefficient, we use monetary donations to reach people with items that are needed. As the emergency continues, other needs may emerge for people such as access to medication, covering rent and other bills and travel costs when they are evacuated to different areas.

What services does Canadian Red Cross provide in these situations?

We work closely with local authorities to determine what’s needed. This can include registration of evacuees, setting up emergency shelters, distributing supplies and immediate financial assistance. For the 2016 Alberta fires, and last year’s spring floods in Ontario and Quebec and BC fires, we provided aid through electronic funds transfers. This allows people who have experienced the disaster to determine how they need to spend the funds. The scale and speed of this aid is the first of its kind not only in Canada, but in the world. Of course, we know that not everyone has access to online resources, so we’re also on the ground to reach out to communities. Because of our registration database, we can provide family reunification services for people who are looking for a loved one who has been affected by a disaster.

One of our most important services is provided by our Safety and Wellbeing team. Experiencing a disaster can be traumatic and people need support in a variety of ways. We also must ensure that Red Cross volunteers and workers have the psychosocial support they need because the work we do to help people can be very stressful and emotional.

Recovery from a disaster takes time. While we provide emergency assistance, we also work to meet the needs of the community in months and years to come. That often takes the form of financial support for local community organizations such as food banks, the YMCA and United Way, as well as programs to help small businesses.

Insurance companies show up shortly after your teams do. What are the differences between what you do and what they do?

Funds provided by Red Cross for emergency and recovery needs are not intended to cover the entire cost of lost properties. That’s why it’s important for insurance companies to play an active role in the disaster response. Like us, they are working hard in the early days of an emergency to get important information to people who have been impacted, from what to do if your home was damaged, to whether your fridge is safe to keep food in if you lost power for several days. Many insurance providers can also help with urgent needs during evacuation. It’s important to reach out to them as soon as possible to let them know that you’ve been affected by a disaster and see what support is available.

What can people do if they want to support the Canadian Red Cross?

People are incredibly generous in supporting their fellow Canadians across the country in times of disaster, and we couldn’t do our work without those donations. Every day in the field, I meet people who are so grateful for the support they are receiving, so I want to pass along that heartfelt thanks to everyone who has ever helped raise funds. From corporate partners to kids collecting money at lemonade stands, your donation has made a difference. People who want to help us continue this work can donate on our website.

Want to learn more about the Canadian Red Cross? Visit their website here.

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