By: Jennifer Allen, Canadian Red Cross Physiotherapy Delegate, Past Chair of the GHD

July 2022

The Canadian Red Cross has been deploying Emergency Response Units (ERUs) all over the world since 1996, to areas where local health care systems have been damaged or overwhelmed due to natural disasters. An ERU is a disaster response tool that allows services to be delivered during disasters. ERUs are coordinated overall by the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and maintained and operated by National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, otherwise known as National Societies, such as the Canadian Red Cross. The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is made up of 192 National Societies, the IFRC, and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which provides humanitarian protection and assists individuals who are victims of armed conflict or violence. 

The ERUs are made up of trained personnel and modules of equipment with standard operating procedures, and they may be deployed at the request of a local National Society to support the efforts on the ground on very short notice after a disaster strikes. They have all the materials needed to be self-sustaining for one month, and can be deployed for up to four months while local systems recover. There are six types of ERUs: logistics, relief, information technology and tele-communications, base camp, health, and water and sanitation.

Since 2010, the CRC has maintained its Health ERU, which is one of eight Health ERUs worldwide and the only Health ERU in the Americas region. CRC staff work tirelessly to recruit, train and maintain rosters of delegates who are ready to respond when natural disasters or other emergencies occur. Health ERUs provide emergency health services to communities where health care services are damaged or limited by a disaster or emergency. ERU delegates work in rotations of 4 to 6 weeks.

There are two types of service configurations that may be provided by Health ERUs. Some of the CRC Health ERU deployments in recent years include health ERUs including Emergency Medical Team (EMT) type 1 (clinical) and EMT type 2 (hospital). Further, various public health ERUs are under development. Examples of CRC ERU deployments include Honduras after Hurricanes Eta and Iota (2020), Mozambique after Cyclone Idai (2019), Nepal after the earthquake (2015) and Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan (2013). Take a look at the experiences of Red Cross delegates after Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013 here.

Photo credit: Luc Alary / Canadian Red Cross

The Canadian Red Cross delegate roster is comprised of approximately 350 highly experienced and trained professionals in a wide array of fields who are ready to be deployed on very short notice. The training provided to delegates focuses on broadening their general knowledge of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and helping these professionals apply their technical skills in an ERU environment, amidst varying humanitarian crises. Currently, there are three physiotherapists on the Canadian Red Cross ERU Physiotherapy roster. Delegate rosters are expanded at various times, based on need. For instance, if trauma surgeons are in high demand, the Canadian Red Cross Talent Acquisition team will focus their efforts on hiring for that roster, while rosters that are sufficiently staffed may not have open recruitment. For this reason, for those who have applied to the Canadian Red Cross Physiotherapy roster in the past, it is important to keep your profile, including your CV and your contact details, up to date as the Talent Acquisition team may reach out when new opportunities become available. In general, the hiring process for Physiotherapist delegates involves a general interview followed by a technical interview, and finally reference and criminal record checks.

If all aspects of the hiring process are completed satisfactorily, a delegate position will be offered and the onboarding and orientation process begins. There are numerous online self-paced CRC, IFRC and World Health Organization (WHO) courses to complete, along with a medical clearance, which involves updating vaccinations. Through the process of completing online courses, the delegate expands their knowledge on the history, values and overall work of the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement – there is a lot to learn! Moreover, as global circumstances change, so do the training and medical requirements, as was the case during the COVID-19 pandemic. Accordingly, delegates must be agile in adapting to new processes and ever-evolving deployability criteria to remain on the CRC ERU roster.

The final and most exciting part of delegate onboarding process is the live course work. There are two of these courses which need to be completed. The first training is a seven-day International Mobilization and Preparation for Action (IMPACT) course. Remarkably, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadian Red Cross staff quickly pivoted and migrated the joint Canadian Red Cross, IFRC, and ICRC-facilitated IMPACT training online, which was no small feat.

I took the IMPACT course in April 2021 from home, along with many participants from Canada and some from far and wide, including places such as Pakistan and Colombia. The IMPACT training includes online self-study pre-modules, followed by seven days of intensive facilitated and group work sessions. The IMPACT training provides a great opportunity to learn about other ERU delegate roles, and understand how all components of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement work harmoniously during disaster response. IMPACT training includes a written disaster simulation exercise which is completed in teams, followed by team presentations of how the disaster was proposed to be managed to the wider group of participants. After successfully completing the IMPACT training, delegates have the knowledge, skills, and practical tips to work effectively with National Society colleagues anywhere in the world.

The second course is the Health ERU Training, which involves pre-arrival online self-paced modules on topics specific to ERUs followed by a seven-day in-person training. The training has classroom and simulation components, and it is meant to prepare delegates for working as part of a Health ERU deployment. The simulation involves ongoing problem solving, teamwork and stress management, all the while dealing with the elements of nature around the clock.

Health Team, Health ERU Training Jun. 2022

Physiotherapy- and Paramedic-led ergonomic patient transport training, Health ERU Training Jun. 2022

So, what are your thoughts? We want to hear from you! If you have read this far, it means you have some interest in either applying to be a Canadian Red Cross Physiotherapist delegate, sharing this information with a friend who you think may be well suited for this type of role, or learning more about this opportunity and others like it. Feel free to contact us at with your comments and questions. Also, keep an eye out for a future GHD blog posts in which we will delve into other information about the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement work as it relates to physiotherapy.

For more information about the Canadian Red Cross Physiotherapist delegate role, click here.


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