June 21, 2013. If you are from Southern Alberta, that date will likely be etched in your memory. It was the day that the Bow and Elbow rivers flooded the southern part of the province. The entire downtown core was evacuated and the lights went out. For days, the core of the city was dark. Despite the fact that flooding has been known to happen in Alberta, the extent of the flood, and the damage left in its wake was unprecedented.
So was the response from the community, the city, the province, and even the country.
There was a sense of helplessness in the province, Albertans are not people who are content to sit on their hands when people need help, so people desperately wanted to help – but no one really knew what could be done.
Unfortunately, during this time, Propellus offices (formerly Volunteer Calgary) were among those evacuated and our power was shut off. The power being off meant that our servers were down, and our volunteer database was as dark as the city.
Despite the lack of electricity, and the staff and board being relegated to different quadrants in the city, our business continuity plan took effect immediately upon the emergence of the crisis.
The Propellus board was able to meet during the crisis to review the situation and to ensure that our operations continued as seamlessly as possible, proving that having a strong board is key to successful governance in a crisis situation.
The outpouring of support for the affected communities really took off on the Saturday morning. Propellus staff responded by taking to social media round the clock, connecting the community needing information, and organizations accepting donations for those affected by the rapidly rising waters. As the call for donations settled, and the need for volunteers rose, we utilized the social media pages to connect volunteers with volunteer opportunities.
In under a week the Volunteer Calgary Facebook page had 174,000 shares, twitter acquired 1,000 new followers, and the blog had almost 60,000 views.
During the crisis, entire groups of people, especially groups of employees, were looking to volunteer. Propellus staff, in conjunction with the City of Calgary, worked tirelessly to engage these groups with fulfilling work.
Behind the scenes, the Propellus servers were only down for three business days. The fabulous I.T. crew worked doggedly to relocate the servers and get them running so that the rest of the staff could access the servers from home and get back to work on strengthening organizations.
The University of Calgary was very kind in recognizing the need for Propellus staff to be able to work together, they graciously allowed us use of one of their suites on the 27th and 28th, the space at the U of C allowed for Propellus staff to better serve the Calgary community.
We recognized the need to understand both the immediate and long-term impact of this crisis, to that end Propellus, Calgary Chamber Voluntary Organizations (CCVO) and Calgary Arts Development Association (CADA) began a collaborative effort towards data collection on the impact of the flood on the non-profit sector.
The results of the survey will help inform how community organizations have been impacted by the crisis and how we can work together to support to their needs and help strengthen them in the weeks and months to come.
Thankfully, there was no damage to the Propellus offices and little damage to the Kahanoff Centre for Charitable Activities. July 2nd we are back in the offices are working hard to strengthen organizations.