When most people think of the Red Cross, the focus is usually on humanitarian aid during wars, famines and other catastrophic events overseas.
But the Red Cross also has an important role in B.C., and in Burnaby specifically.
For more than a decade, the Canadian Red Cross has had its Lower Mainland regional headquarters on Lake City Way in Burnaby.
"Everything is done out of this office," says Christopher Libby, regional manager for the Lower Mainland. "All the major Red Cross services and programs have representation here in the Burnaby office."
It is a good spot for the Red Cross, according to Libby.
"Burnaby provides a great location for us, in that it is in the metropolitan area, it also is on major transportation routes, there's access to amenities for staff," he says. "Also, I can't overemphasize how welcoming and helpful city staff has been."
There are about 70 to 75 staff members working out of the office, at the international, national, provincial, and regional levels, according to Libby.
The number fluctuates depending on who is in the area, and also when the emergency call centre, which covers Western Canada, has been activated, he adds.
The first floor of the Burnaby office includes a storage room containing stacks of wheelchairs, walkers and shelves filled to the ceiling with other medical equipment, which is loaned out on a short-term basis to patients in need, referred by health-care providers in the region.
A technician works in the back, modifying and customizing medical equipment, such as wheelchairs, for children.
The Red Cross has many programs and services beyond its humanitarian and disaster relief efforts, including the health equipment loan service, the children's medical equipment recycling and loan service, injury prevention programs, and the RespectED: Violence and abuse prevention program.
The RespectED educational program, which was launched in Vancouver more than 25 years ago, works with schools and communities to prevent violence, bullying harassment, abuse and neglect.
"Right now, bullying has raised its ugly head with very tragic results," Libby says. "It has unfortunately become a prominent thing for us to be addressing as a community."
The Red Cross trains teachers and adults to deal with issues of violence and harassment, and also trains youth to be peer facilitators, he adds, and works with many school districts, including Burnaby.
There is a connection from interpersonal violence to community violence to state violence, according to Kimberley Nemrava, the provincial director for the Red Cross in B.C. and the Yukon.
"It's one (program) that really speaks to the fundamental humanitarianism of the Red Cross movement," she says.
But the work of the Red Cross also focuses on potential disasters in the province.
The B.C. Red Cross recently signed two agreements with the province of B.C., forming a partnership to deal with emergencies.
The first, the auxiliary to government agreement, allows the Red Cross to work with the government in an auxiliary capacity.
"In very sensitive times, times of conflict, times of war, the governments work with the Red Cross to make sure that humanitarian needs are delivered to people affected," Nemrava says.
"This auxiliary to government agreement is a commitment of B.C. government and the Red Cross to work together more closely to address humanitarian needs, in particular around how we can bring Red Cross resources to situations like catastrophic disasters," she adds.
The province and the organization also signed an emergency response agreement, so that the Red Cross can send self-contained emergency response units - covering needs such as health, water sanitation and logistics - which can be deployed anywhere in the world.
"In case of a major catastrophic disaster in B.C., the Canadian Red Cross - and through the Canadian Red Cross, these emergency response units - will be made available to the government of B.C. as needed," Nemrava says.
It is the first such agreement in Canada, she adds.
"B.C. was invited to be involved in this because of our disaster risk," she says.
Local authorities are the first responders in an emergency, supported by provincial/ regional governments, and then the Red Cross, Nemrava says, adding the organization provides support in the case of large disasters, as well as long-term recovery support.
"We respond to everything - if it's not needed we may not need to activate, but we're always there to offer assistance," she says.
Before the major earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand in recent years, as well as Hurricane Katrina and other disasters in the United States, the Red Cross focused its disaster relief primarily on less developed countries.
While those countries still need more support after a disaster, Nemrava says, the Red Cross is also coordinating efforts with developed countries.
"It's really becoming apparent that the recent disasters increasing in scope and magnitude have meant that even developed countries can certainly be overwhelmed," she says.
The primary catastrophic risks in B.C. are earthquakes and tsunamis, but there are more than 50 potential hazard risks in the province, she adds, including chemical spills, mudslides, flooding and fires.
"We have it all," she says. Part of the challenge in B.C. is the geography, Nemrava says, because of the number of communities that can quickly become isolated, and the impact of potential disasters on transportation and access routes.
Geography is a challenge in the Lower Mainland, Libby adds, as is population density.
But the diversity of the population here also offers opportunities for the Red Cross to able to coordinate efforts with very strong community organizations, he says.
© Copyright 2013