UBC Emergency Preparedness exercise DPS participants

Supporting Individuals Affected By Disasters

Disasters are inevitable, and right now, the most imminent risk to British Columbians is wildfire season. More than one million hectares (approx. 2 million football fields) have already burned. It’s easy to see the impact on our forests and the surrounding communities, but the emotional toll on those affected can sometimes go unnoticed—that’s where Disaster Psychosocial Support (DPS) comes in.

When disaster strikes, count on the Disaster Psychosocial Support team

A service within Health Emergency Management BC (HEMBC), DPS provides psychosocial support to individuals, families and communities affected by emergencies like wildfires, floods, earthquakes and more. The DPS team is comprised of HEMBC staff, and a network of professionals including social workers, counselors, psychotherapists, pastoral care, victim service workers, psychologists and others who volunteer their services over and above their regular jobs.

DPS Volunteer Stories – Making a Positive Difference 

Dr. Laurie Pearce, one of the founding members of DPS, helped start the program over 20 years ago after realizing a gap in disaster response. Laurie, a registered social worker, now teaches disaster management at a number of colleges and universities in British Columbia, including Royal Roads University and the Justice Institute of British Columbia.

“Disaster emergency management has been a long-time passion of mine,” says Laurie. “Early on in my career when I was working for the Ministry of Children and Family Development, I noticed that while there was support in terms of putting people up in hotels, or providing vouchers for food to evacuees, no one was looking after their psychosocial needs. It was important to me to ensure that support was available.”

“As a DPS volunteer, we meet people when they are facing some of the worst times of their lives. Some have just lost their homes and possessions, or had family members who have died or been injured. Our job is to provide them with the tools they need to connect and move forward, and ease some of the consequences of the trauma they’ve just experienced. It feels really good to be able to make that positive difference in people’s lives and that’s why I keep coming back to it,” says Laurie.

Susan Viveiros, a counselor from Terrace B.C., was recently deployed by DPS to support the wildfire in Burns Lake. She worked in the Emergency Operations Centre supporting emergency professionals. 

Susan joined the DPS team earlier this year and has already supported a number of disasters and emergency events. She joined both because of the altruistic nature of the work and the opportunity to provide support to individuals who have just gone through a traumatic experience. 

“Even though they are trained professionals, everyone can use a little support,” said Susan. “Sometimes we don’t realize all of the things going on in the background. Every conversation I had, I was giving somebody something, making them aware of how they can help themselves from managing stress and beyond.”

Susan Viveiros (left) and Dr. Laurie Pearce (right)

Become a DPS 

Are you interested in providing psychosocial support in the form of psychological first aid to persons and communities impacted by emergencies and disasters? Join the DPS network by submitting your volunteer​ application online. Volunteers must have a level of education, training and experience equivalent to a Bachelor’s degree in a related field, plus a minimum of five (5) years’ recent and related experience working with clients in the field of social work, mental health, counseling, crisis response, or similar profession. For more information, please visit www.phsa.ca/dps.

Pitt Meadows Emergency Preparedness exercise DPS participants

Flood volunteers enjoying a post-work milkshake

For more volunteer opportunities, check out Volunteer Now on our website for all the latest postings and information.

Want to learn about emerging trends and how to adapt to the changing landscape of volunteering? Join us October 26 & 27 at the VolunteerBCACG Conference for nonprofits, charities and volunteers. This event is your chance to discover new approaches and reimagine how your organization can thrive.

Secure your spot now!