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Catherine Christinsen

Disaster master plans for the worst

September 7, 2007

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By Stuart Colcleugh

Catherine Christensen (above) has a knack for starting new jobs in the middle of a crisis.                           

The SFU emergency coordinator’s first day as national emergency response coordinator for her previous employer, Air Canada Jazz, for example, was September 11, 2001.

Christensen was on duty non-stop for 20 hours at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport in the wake of terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

In her first month at SFU’s Burnaby campus last November she faced the havoc of the worst snow storms in recent memory. So, she hit the ground running—or rather, “slipping and sliding,” says Christensen.

Working with her environmental health and safety (EHS) department colleagues and other stakeholders she got immediately to work on a comprehensive, severe-weather emergency-response plan for the university.

“That’s now ready to go,” says Christensen, whose key responsibilities include writing emergency plans, coordinating procedures for specific emergency scenarios, educating and training volunteers and raising public awareness about emergency preparedness at the university’s three campuses.

Then came the Virginia Tech massacre in April, which highlighted the need at universities across the continent for improved security and mass communications plans.

“As a result, we’re upgrading all our security and mass communication systems,” says Christensen.

“That includes everything from mass SMS [cell-phone text] messaging, electronic reader boards in high-profile areas and key intersections, and emergency website protocols.”

Her other projects include:
  • A convocation emergency plan addressing mass evacuation and response to medical emergencies, which was implemented for spring convocation.
  • A plan to address outbreaks of infectious diseases such as SARS and pandemic influenza, with a first draft expected in March.
  • Emergency plan templates for SFU’s Surrey and Vancouver campuses.
  • Increasing campus-wide awareness of appropriate emergency response actions through workshops, training sessions and an upcoming revision of the EHS website.
  • Working with SFU’s emergency social services team to provide training in services orientation, notification and mobilization.

Preparedness is clearly all in a day’s work for Christensen. But living on Burnaby Mountain, at UniverCity, has thrown both her and husband at least one curve: “Nineteen snowfalls in one winter,” she laughs.

“I counted them. Now, that surprised me.”
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