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Home Alumni Alumni News SAIT opens its doors to evacuees

SAIT opens its doors to evacuees

When Stephanie Woods (BA '08) headed to work as the fresh, new General Manager at SAIT Residence on the morning of June 20, 2013, she thought, "Wow, it's raining a lot!"

Woods had only been in the job for two-and-a-half months and she was about to experience one of the most intense 48 hours of her career.

A place to call home

"When I got home from work, my sister said, 'Pack a bag; we have to leave.'"

The City of Calgary had just executed one of the biggest evacuations in the city's history in response to the 2013 Alberta floods, placing all areas around the Bow and Elbow rivers under a mandatory evacuation order. This included Woods and her sister who were, at the time, living in Victoria Park.

Woods packed her bag and headed back to SAIT — a place she has considered home since she began her Business Administration diploma in 2006. "I got to my desk and received a phone call that we would be taking evacuees.

"It was definitely an eye-opening experience for me," says Woods. "Opening our doors to people is something we do here all the time - we have 1,100 students move in every fall. But with one or two hours' notice that we're taking in a couple hundred people — it's daunting. It was a huge learning experience for sure."

A refuge once again

Then, on May 3, 2016, Woods was put into action once again when SAIT Residence was named one of the key evacuation centres for those fleeing the raging forest fire in Fort McMurray, AB.

"We've had double the evacuees that we had during the floods," says Woods. "It was easier this time because we knew where we went wrong the first time and we had learned from those experiences."

It wasn't long before close to 400 evacuees came to stay on the SAIT campus. SAIT's Emergency Management Team coordinated SAIT's response, which included opening SAIT Residences and working with SAIT Food Services and Chartwells to provide meals to the many families arriving throughout the night.

"We have such an amazing team here," says Woods. "We all put our personal schedules aside and there was no complaining or moaning from anyone. Everyone wanted to come out and help in whatever way they could."

The SAIT Summer Camps team stepped in to coordinate activities for the many children staying on campus.

SAIT Recreation opened up Campus Centre's wellness facilities so evacuees could take advantage of the gym, swimming pool and bowling alley to pass the time. And SAIT's Reg Erhardt Library opened its doors to provide access to books, board games, computers, phone chargers and study rooms. The SAIT Summer Camps team also stepped in to coordinate activities for the many children staying on campus.

Empathy and understanding

According to Woods, one of the biggest differences between SAIT's response to the 2013 floods and the fires in Fort McMurray this year is the response from the Calgary community.

"Our city wasn't in crisis like it was in 2013, so people were able to respond immediately," says Woods. "On the night we were taking in evacuees from Fort McMurray, there were already people showing up with water and clothing wanting to help. In 2013, Calgarians were in crisis and many weren't in a position to help each other."

And that's not the only insight from 2013 that resonates with Woods — she was one of those people who were unable to return to their homes after flood waters receded.

"When I'm working with the families here, I can really sympathize with them and understand how they are feeling," she says. "I know that sense of the unknown and how it feels to not know what to do next. I know how emotional it can be for them."

Written by Alison O'Connor

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