By Perron S. Goodyear
With in-person training not feasible due to the pandemic, The Salvation Army quickly shifted to virtual training and expanded our training beyond Canada’s borders to build capacity among our global partners.
The Salvation Army’s Emergency Disaster Services program in Canada started in response to the Halifax Explosion on December 6, 1917. The explosion and subsequent tsunami-like wave destroyed much of the city of Halifax, killed more than 1,600 people, and injured thousands more. The Army dispatched personnel from across the country and Newfoundland to assist with relief efforts, which lasted for months. In addition to providing for the practical needs of those impacted, such as food and clothing, Salvation Army personnel provided emotional and spiritual support to responders. “We do not know how we would have gotten along without them,” wrote R.T. MacIlreith, Chairman of the Relief Committee (The Salvation Army, 2021).
Following the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001, The Salvation Army in North America developed the National Disaster Training Program (NDTP). The NDTP is a detailed emergency response training program whereby personnel are trained in every aspect of Salvation Army emergency response.
Today, The Salvation Army’s Emergency Disaster Services (EDS) has grown into an international network involving thousands of trained personnel worldwide, including many volunteers. As a result, The Salvation Army plays a critical role in all aspects of the emergency management continuum: mitigation/prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery.
The Salvation Army utilizes volunteers in every aspect of EDS, particularly in response. Full training is provided through our NDTP, and only pre-trained, pre-registered personnel are called on during an emergency or disaster response. This training allows personnel from all over North America to support relief efforts across the two countries and bring much-needed capacity where it is needed most.
Early in 2020, EDS began planning and preparing for the COVID-19 pandemic. This included updating pandemic plans as well as planning for response to other possible emergencies during a pandemic. Our Territorial Rapid Emergency Assistance Team (TREAT) members were assigned to small groups representing the various functions of an incident management team and asked to consider the ramifications of this function during a pandemic. Based on these findings, each group made a series of recommendations.
It was quickly identified that our usual in-person NDTP training might not be feasible. As a result of response to the pandemic, however, the need to recruit and train additional personnel would be increased. In addition, the usual movement of personnel across provincial and territorial borders may not be possible, so increasing local capacity would be critical. We would need to address this significant gap to sustain response efforts if the pandemic became a reality.
We developed a task force to look at the possibility of adapting our NDTP in-person training for a virtual environment. NDTP courses focus on teaching adult learners using a variety of techniques, including short lectures, videos, and group exercises. It also allows facilitators to assess the capabilities, capacities, and limitations of potential responders. Going virtual would mean adjusting exercises for an online environment as well as finding a way to assess potential volunteers’ skills and abilities without seeing them in person.
Starting with our Introduction to Emergency Disaster Services course, a pilot was launched using Zoom in early April with one trainer and three additional training aides. The training aides assisted with answering questions, monitoring the chat, and helping in break-out exercises. Exercises were re-vamped to provide the same learning outcomes while changing the structure to be conducive to virtual learning.
Following the successful launch of the initial course, subsequent courses were added over the spring and summer. These included Fundamentals of Holistic Care, Disaster Food Service and Canteen Operations, Incident Command System, and Understanding Emergency Management. Advanced courses such as Finance and Administration, Planning, and The Policy Group were added to provide additional leadership capacity to local teams.
After each course, participants were sent a virtual evaluation form to provide anonymous feedback on the course materials and instruction. The feedback from participants has been overwhelmingly positive. After taking the Introduction to Emergency Disaster Services, Donna shared, “The course was well presented, and although we were not able to meet in person, the facilitators made sure people were engaged and able to share personal experiences. The ability to connect with people from across the nation with similar passion for helping others was refreshing”.
Supporting international partners
With the shift to virtual learning, new opportunities opened up to expand the training beyond geographical boundaries. As part of a pilot program to provide technical support to our partners, Salvation Army project officers from Liberia were invited to participate in the virtual courses. The training helped equip them to develop emergency response projects on the ground in Liberia. “The training was rich and resourceful,” said Major Abraham Collins, project officer for The Salvation Army in the Liberia and Sierra Leone Command. “It prepared me to organize a locally trained disaster management team.”
In addition, training personnel from The Salvation Army in the United States and our International Headquarters in London, England joined training sessions in an effort to replicate what was being done in Canada. The revised training materials were shared to expedite their ability to train personnel virtually, since Canada was the first to make this shift.
Adapting to a new normal
Prior to the pandemic we would not have considered using virtual training due to limitations in making assessments on personnel. However, we learned it is possible to change the delivery model while maintaining the original objectives of the courses. Although it is expected that in-person training will resume once it is safe, we also anticipate that some training will continue virtually, and we foresee adding self directed online training as another tool to our learning environment. This hybrid model will allow for greater flexibility and expand our reach beyond physical borders. What started as a necessary change has provided the opportunity to reimagine our training program now and for the long-term.
The Salvation Army. (2021, January 15). Retrieved June 10, 2021, from https://salvationarmy.ca/what-we-do/in-your-community/eds/
Perron S. Goodyear is the Territorial Director of Emergency Disaster Services for The Salvation Army in Canada and Bermuda. He recently completed a Master of Arts in Disaster and Emergency Management from Royal Roads University.