A Lesson from Fort McMurray: Staying Calm in a Crisis

Fort Mac fire

photo by DarrenRD

Like so many people, I have been watching the news closely about the Fort McMurray Wildfires. It’s a devastating situation for thousands of people and being a proud Albertan, it hits close to home.

Watching the footage of the mass evacuation of 88,000 people, I was struck by the calm, methodical way everyone left the city.

With massive fires on the side of the road and smoke often so thick that they couldn’t see the vehicle right in front of them drivers didn’t seem to panic, but kept slowly inching their way away from the fire and toward safety, understanding that there was no way to rush an evacuation of this magnitude.

You expect in a situation like this that there will always be some people, who, in a state of blind fear, unintentionally panic and do something stupid. Yet these remarkable people did just the opposite.

Maybe it was the number of people with emergency training that live in Fort McMurray, or maybe it was just plain common sense, but no one can dispute that the citizens’ ability to stay calm in the face of very real danger saved lives.  They had faith in and respected for the emergency workers directing them out of the city and for that, we are all thankful.

When I reflect on this I cannot help but to think of how we could all learn a thing or two from Fort McMurray.

We all face crises at different points in our lives. Though they may not be as severe as the situation in Fort McMurray, how we react in a crisis can quickly make things worse or better.

Fort McMurray had an emergency plan and executed it step by step…

  • Step 1: Evacuate all the residents safely to get them out of immediate danger.
  • Step 2: Protect as much of the city’s infrastructure as possible.
  • Step 3: Assess the damage and restore damaged infrastructures so that residents will be able to return.
  • And so on….

Think about a time when you had a crisis in your own life, perhaps a health crisis, financial crisis, or even a parenting crisis. How did you react?

  • Were you calm in managing your emotions?
  • Did you take things steps by step or blow up with panic and fear?
  • What was the outcome?


When something major is going on in our lives it can be very difficult to stay calm, formulate a plan, and execute it step by step – yet that is the very best approach.

When we focus and attend to the most critical issue first, and the next, and then the next we remain powerful, rational and effective in the face of a crisis.  Alternatively, if we allow panic and drama to dominate, we become intellectually (and physically) paralyzed and can actually increase the danger to ourselves and others.

Alternatively, if we allow panic and drama to dominate, we become intellectually (and physically) paralyzed and can actually increase the danger to ourselves and others.

I admire the calm, order and bravery that the people of Fort McMurray have shown over the past week. It has undoubtedly saved countless lives and it makes me even more proud to be an Albertan.

If you’ve been as touched, as I have, by the stories of the people of #FortMac who had to evacuate, make a donation to the Red Cross here. The government is matching all donations and it is the best way to make a difference.


Heather Petherick, A Proud Albertan

Heather Petherick is a master success coach for high potential business leaders, having established her private coaching practice in 2007. Since then, she’s coached hundreds of emerging leaders and entrepreneurs from around the globe to overcome the mindset traps that keep them playing small so that they can realize their potential and create the impact they’re meant for. Her areas of speciality are: • Mindset • Confidence • Communication • Speed of Implementation Her clients include corporate rising stars at WestJet, Agrium, Suncor Energy, Manulife Bank, TD, Royal Bank of Canada, KMPG and PepsiCo International as well as big-thinking entrepreneurs from around the world. She has been featured as a career and success expert with Women Engineering The Future, The Royal Bank of Canada, Canadian Living Magazine and Chatelaine magazine. Heather’s journey from growing up on a humble sheep farm on the prairies of western Canada to building a global coaching business have lent to her signature coaching style that combines both wit and humility, style and business savvy. She holds a Master’s degree in Management and lives in Lethbridge, Alberta with her husband and two children.

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