“I can name fifty other people who deserve this honour just as much as I do,” says Erin Crane, manager of Conference & Event Services at the U of L, “It couldn’t have happened with just me.” Despite her humble opinion on the subject, the government of Alberta nonetheless chose to commend Crane, along with 1,300 other individuals and organizations, in the “Heroes of the Flood” campaign. Crane and the rest of her department acted as the operation managers for the coordinated university response to the summer floods of 2013. Crane sat down with me to recount the story of the emotional days, the communal work and the serendipitous science fair which led to U of L’s successful reception of displaced evacuees.
The Conference & Event Services department facilitates outside use of the campus residences. “We provide the opportunity for all external groups in the community to come onto campus and utilize our facilities,” Crane explains. “We plan conferences, events, weddings, family reunions. Anything or anybody that wants to hold an event on campus.” This put Crane’s department in a very unique position when the call for help reached the university. “The ask for assistance came through many avenues. Nancy Walker [VP of Finance and Administration] was originally asked, and then it disseminated out to the appropriate departments,” Crane says. “The university has an emergency response system, so when something like this happens, they pull in all of the key people . . . Conference & Event Services was named kind of operation manager just because we were the ones coordinating the response.”
From there, it became an issue of how to adequately shelter and help the displaced coming from evacuated areas. It was here that the serendipitous science fair ended up being one of the most important logistical aids. “We had just come off of hosting the Canada-Wide Science Fair, where we used pretty much every residence on campus.” says Crane. “So luckily we were in a position where we were prepared; we already had all of the equipment. . . . It was like, ‘Okay gang, let’s do it all again!’”
Although Crane’s department was acting as managers of the operation, she affirms that it was by no means their efforts alone that the university was able to prepare a response: “We had facilities, we had the health centre there, food services, human resources, finances. We had to bring in the entire campus community to really keep everybody on board and let everyone know what was going on.”
When the evacuees finally arrived, however, it was Crane’s department that began the difficult process of receiving those that had lost so much. “Myself and my team, we were the ones greeting everybody as they got off the bus. We were checking them in and getting them rooms,” Crane says. “It was a tough day. You could tell when they got off the bus that they’d been through the worst experience of their lives.”
Crane and her co-workers always had to walk a fine line between being helpful and respectful. “We were trying to stay positive and yet be mindful of what they had just gone through. I don’t think any of us had been through something like that. So it was really difficult.” Sensitivity was important to Crane’s close work with the evacuees. But what made the difficult emotional process and the long hours worth it was the gratitude she experienced on behalf of the displaced. “It was really difficult, but the people that came were so thankful of what we were offering; they had come from staying in gyms on cots. Just to walk in and see our residences that had full kitchens, living rooms and private bedrooms with locking doors . . . you could tell the relief on their faces.”
Crane describes the outpouring of support from not only the university, but the entire Lethbridge community as overwhelming. “We had Alberta Health Services; the Red Cross was here. Our recruitment department put together this fantastic volunteer team to welcome people so when they came in they had people in U of L shirts who were there saying ‘let me take your luggage, here let me help you with that!’ Sport and Rec services opened up the gym, [parents] could enrol their kids in camp for free, and it was just an outpouring of support.”
Although Crane was specifically lauded as a hero of the flood, she spends most of her time describing all the support from the Lethbridge community and the university. The closest she comes to even remotely recognizing the staggering amount of work that she did comes when she touts the hard work of her department and her co-workers. “The staff was working pretty much nonstop. Everybody had just been worked to the bone, but when that happened no one even questioned it. They just stepped forward and said, ‘Yep. We’ll make it happen’. . . . It couldn’t have happened with just me. It took the entire university, the entire Lethbridge community to really make the impact we made.”
It took an entire community to make a difference, but every community needs a leader who works nonstop to make a difference. There is no better example than Erin Crane.