Amanda Herbert – Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo – Emergency Social Services Coordinator

By Becky Benoit

The smell of smoke drifts on the summer air, as sirens wail in the background. Frantic victims, wide-eyed with panic, flee a burning building, dragging children or clutching prized possessions. Chaos reigns as people fight to escape, while rescue personnel and Good Samaritans do their best to help. In the midst of the chaos,the RMWB’s emergency services team is there, helping to dispel fear and bring order to chaos. And behind that team is Amanda Herbert.

Herbert, emergency services coordinator of the RMWB, leads the response to large-scale emergencies that happen within the boundaries of the region, from floods and fires to hazardous materials spills and devastating storms. The 33-year old was drawn to the field of emergency services after spending a few years in Japan teaching English.

“I had an interesting few years in Japan. There were a lot of hazards there – earthquakes, typhoons, a landslide in my village,” she says. “I was actually in Thailand when the big tsunami happened. Everyone I knew was okay, but it was close enough to really make you think.”

After finishing her degree in Applied Disaster and Emergency Studies, Herbert worked for the Manitoba Red Cross, seeing disasters and victims firsthand. Today, she says she’s a bit more removed from the frontlines, which makes her grateful when she is able to meet with victims face-to-face.

I’m usually coordinating my team, liaising with people who are managing other people. I’m four or five layers removed from the front lines so I don’t often interact with the evacuees,” Herbert says, adding that occasionally she does find herself on the ground during an emergency, such as the Parsons Creek apartment building fire in February of this year.

“I met a couple that last day at the reception centre who had two young boys, and they were so appreciative of the help. When you’re in the thick of it, faces and names become kind of distant, so it’s nice to meet people. It really brings it back,” she says.

Though her job keeps her busy, Herbert still finds the time to volunteer for the 2013 Canadian Junior Curling Championships, Taste of Fort McMurray, Volunteer Wood Buffalo and the Fort McMurray Food Bank, among others. “Part of living in a community and wanting to be a part of it is interacting with other people to make it a better, safer place to be,”

Herbert says of why she volunteers. “I’ve moved a lot, but everywhere I’ve lived I’ve taken a high degree of ownership of being there and what makes that community a good place to be.”