Giving Back to Our Communities
Have you ever thought of giving back to your community and even the province at large? Here is a unique opportunity that takes us back to our basic counselling skills and to the essence of good listening: Disaster Psychosocial (DPS) volunteering.
“The DPS Program provides psychosocial services upon request and with the agreement of the impacted community. The program develops and provides strategies with a continuum of supportive services targeting both public and responders affected by an emergency or disaster.
These services are intended to assist in diminishing the long-term psychosocial effects, clarify a current disaster or emergency situation and improve an individual or community’s adaptive coping mechanisms.” – From the DPS website
What is involved in signing up?
Potential volunteers for the Disaster Psychosocial (DPS) Program team will fill out an application, followed by a ½ to 1 hour interview. You will have an opportunity to ask questions during the interview.
Applicants are asked to take two free courses through the Justice Institute which help familiarize them with the Disaster Psychosocial (DPS) Program.
You will also be asked to detail your experience with disasters, complete a checklist to indicate your areas of expertise and to provide your professional affiliation and registration number.
What sorts of disasters does the team respond to?
Past disasters that have seen DPS volunteers are:
- Johnson’s Landing landslide
- Burns Lake mill fire
- Prince George ice jam
- Wildfire evacuation sites – Okanagan , Lillooet, Rock Creek
- Cache Creek floods
- Tofino whaleboat
- Alberta floods – High River.
How do you get “called out”?
We are “called out” by a blanket email to all volunteers giving details of what the disaster is, approximately how long volunteers are needed, and who to contact if we’re available. If you’re not available, you don’t do anything further.
Checking your emails regularly is important as when you give your personal information you are telling the provincial team the best way to contact you. If you are available and want to respond, email back and travel arrangements and accommodation, etc. are organized for you by head office. Meals are invoiced.
What is it actually like to go to a reception centre?
When you arrive at a site – often the reception centre – it can be quite chaotic and noisy as people are still arriving and getting registered. Know that where you are going will probably have been vetted for safety. However, look around and make sure you ARE in a safe place or go to a safer place.
You will have the name of a person to connect with, but make yourself known to other folks there – St. John’s Ambulance, Salvation Army, Red Cross, community organizations. Their eyes will be seeing the evacuees too and they are great sources of referral, as are the ESS (Emergency Social Services) volunteers registering folks.
You will want to know what mental health resources are available in the community if you have not already addressed this beforehand.
What is the role of the counsellor at the reception centre?
DPS is not therapy or counselling and this is critical to remember when you are deployed. The greatest gift you will offer someone else is a listening ear.
Your role is to listen and link people together so that they are supported in the best way possible for them.
Who needs a listening ear?
Who needs help being present?
Who is stressed out?
We may only get to see someone once for a half hour or less. You may go on a “walk and talk” outside if that is a quieter place to be, but remember: confidentiality is important.
We make sure we have bottles of water and lots of Kleenex. We make sure we check in with someone at the end of a shift/day so that we can debrief.
You may only be there for a day or two and another volunteer may be coming in the days following your stint.
Deploying to EOC (Emergency Operations Centre)
Here the main function of DPS is to make sure those staffing EOC take care of themselves and stay hydrated, have a buddy and check in with that buddy periodically to make sure both are getting up and moving around. Checking in with staff and checking on their emotional concerns is another aspect of being at EOC.
There are volunteers all over the province. They belong to professional organizations, such as, BCACC, B.C. Psychological Association, BCASW, and CCPA.
Volunteers may not be actively involved in a disaster for long spaces of time. Here in Kamloops I’ve been involved with the forest fire evacuees in 2009, a local large apartment fire involving more than 100 people a couple of years after that and then just this past June in Cache Creek.
How can you keep in touch?
Go to the website periodically to see what exercises are planned in your area so that you can practice and meet others who are part of the team. Take the JI courses and any others that are suggested. Watch for a time when Psychological First Aid is offered in your area or online. Check out the newsletters. Join in on a teleconference that is province wide.
Volunteer for this important program.
If you are interested, please visit the DPS WEBSITE and fill out an application.
2016 DPS Conference: Building a Community of Practice
BCACC is proud to be sponsoring the 2016 DPS conference: Building a Community of Practice in Vancouver this March. If you are interested in attending this conference, please click the graphic below for more information.
Julie Flowerdew, MA, RCC
Julie is semi-retired and living in Kamloops with her Labradoodle, Morgan and her cat, Pookie. She continues to see clients of all ages dealing with anxiety, depression, grief and trauma. She plays duplicate bridge, gardens, and paints intuitively. She has been a DPS volunteer since 2009 and a member of the Provincial DPS Committee representing BCACC for the past year.
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