Toronto police sergeant shares expertise in dealing with disaster

Eric Goodwin knows how to deal with disasters. In 2013, while serving as a police officer with the European Union Police, he trained Afghan law enforcement personnel, in Kabul, Afghanistan, specializing in emergency management.

“I was responsible for teaching and putting together the first-ever course in incident command for the Afghan National Police,” Goodwin said. He explained that he led tabletop exercises focusing on the command and control of a site affected by natural or human induced disasters.

“Tabletop exercises are designed to bring people (into) a safe environment (to) practise the hierarchical structure (in emergency situations). You provide the students with something they can handle and give them a step-by-step process … to control a particular scene,” Goodwin said.

On Tuesday at Thorncliffe Park, Goodwin led an emergency preparedness course in partnership with the Canadian Red Cross. Thirteen women of South Asian descent, mostly new immigrants to Canada, attended the course. The women were taught about the risks in a modern Canadian community and how to better prepare themselves in the event of an emergency.

“No one before us has come into this community and addressed the issues here,” Goodwin said. “The reason I’m focusing on women and one of the main focuses of the project, is to empower women through education.”

When Goodwin completed his tour of duty in Afghanistan and returned to Canada, he realized there was a large South Asian population living in East York; these new immigrants were unaware of, and unprepared for, the potential dangers, such as power outages affecting thousands of homes in their high population density community.

Currently a Toronto Police Service sergeant and undergraduate student at Cape Breton University, Goodwin hopes to use his experience in Afghanistan to help his neighbours in East York. During the Tuesday sessions, he gave the women kits containing pamphlets of emergency scenarios, a logbook, and a flashlight that would help them during power outages.

“The women here have the cognitive ability to take action. They just don’t have the knowledge to carry out certain activities,” he said. “We don’t want to create a dependency. We want to give them education, so that when they have to make a decision, it’s an informed decision.”

Goodwin explained that although his course is geared towards women, being prepared for emergencies should be a priority for every Canadian.

Pete Karageorgos, the director of consumer and industry relations at the Insurance Bureau of Canada, attended Goodwin’s demonstration. He said that preparing new immigrants for the worst can help relieve some of the financial strains on municipal services and resources.

“The December ice storm in 2013 cost insurance companies almost $200 million in claims. These claim damages would’ve included additional living expenses, clean up costs, cost to replace items, and cost to rebuild things,” Karageorgos said.

He added that without those insurance payouts, those costs would have been left for municipalities to pay.

“Working together – insurance companies, homeowners, municipalities, we see that we can recover quicker than if we were working individually,” Karageorgos said.

“We’re just scratching the tip of the iceberg,” Goodwin said.

As the Canadian government continues to process Syrian refugees, 15,000 more by March 1, Goodwin stresses that the responsibility of being prepared in an emergency falls to all Canadians, especially those in high risk areas.

“To me, the work is never over,” Goodwin said. “I believe that there is an onus on me to help the people in a Canadian way – which is what this is all about.”