New program focuses on managing chaos

If we had to evacuate York, for whatever reason, how could we do it without creating chaos? By what means could officials communicate to a city of  three million people during a blackout? What can your municipality do to prepare for and mitigate natural disasters such as a flood or tornado? How can organizations create an effective business continuity plan to help them recover partially or completely after a major crisis?

Above: Sorting through the logistics required to cope with the devastation of a natural disaster is at the heart of York’s new Master of Arts in Disaster & Emergency Management Program

Critical questions like these are explored in York University’s new Master of Arts in Disaster & Emergency Management (MA DEM) Program, housed in the Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies. The program was launched on Jan. 9 in the Technology Enhanced Learning Building, featuring a panel of high-level experts as well as a unique networking opportunity for students and emergency management professionals.

"The first of its kind here in Ontario, the Master of Arts in Disaster & Emergency Management program is specifically designed to harness the academic and professional knowledge base of our experts to meet critical need for professionals with advanced knowledge in the field," said Rob Tiffin, York vice president students. "And what an important field it is. We just passed the third anniversary of the tsunami in South Asia and more locally the 10th anniversary of Canada’s ice storm. Disaster and emergency management is a topic that affects all of us."

MA DEM, directed by David Etkin (see YFile, Sept. 26, 2007), grew out of the strengths of Atkinson’s Professional Certificate in Emergency Management and was developed in close consultation with practitioners and experts in the field. "Since its inception, the program has received tremendous support from a broad cross-section of leaders at the municipal, provincial and national level," said Atkinson Dean Rhonda Lenton, present at the launch to express her thanks to those leaders and to encourage continued collaboration between the University and community and industry partners.

Right: Program director David Etkin

Four of the program’s key supporters spoke on the panel, including Tom Frank, director of Enterprise Business Continuity & Enterprise Risk and Portfolio Management, BMO Financial Group; Michael Morton, deputy chief, program development, Emergency Management Ontario; John Saunders, director, disaster management and international response, Canadian Red Cross; and Cliff Trollope, manager, business continuity, Aviva Canada.

Each panellist hailed the interdisciplinary nature of the program and spoke of the growing need for professionals with advanced-level knowledge and skills in the field. They were impressed by the problem-oriented approach the program takes, and pleased that students will tackle disaster and emergency management from a holistic perspective, addressing not only recovery and response but also issues such as prevention and mitigation.

"A lot of focus gets put on the response, but there is so much that needs to be done before, during and after," said John Saunders. "And really, it’s the after incident work that is the largest; it’s the rebuilding, the recovery and the ‘let’s make sure this doesn’t happen again.’"

Left: Guests at the launch listen to comments made by expert panellists in disaster and emergency management

Rupinder Kambo, a member of the Department of National Defence and a current student in the program, agrees. "The one great fact of the 21st-century is that the rate of change is accelerating. We are inevitably going to be challenged as perhaps no others have been challenged before. These challenges come in a broad range of forms including the environment, technology, social change, terrorism and issues yet known. We are expected to do what we have done to date – survive. Unfortunately, in the face of our rapidly changing reality this becomes ever more difficult. Programs such as MA DEM that directly confront these challenges enable and empower us as practitioners to not only react but pro-act more efficiently as well."

Watch the videos of the keynote presentations at