Many people can tell you where they were on September 11, 2011 with startling clarity – it is an event that remains seared into the hearts and souls of many, even here in Newfoundland and Labrador. The tragedy of that day also led Darren Butt on a journey which brought him to College of the North Atlantic, steering him from the communications field toward the discipline of disaster and emergency management and his current position as instructor of the Emergency Management (Post Diploma) the program at Bay St. George campus.
Darren was on his way to British Columbia on one of the last airplanes to land at Pearson International Airport in Toronto on 9/11. He entered the terminal and looked up at a television to see the second plane hit the World Trade Centre. “I remember being one of the last people to leave Pearson that day. I was approached by an Air Canada employee and a City of Toronto SWAT officer, who was holding a submachine-gun, and they told me to get in a cab and leave,” he recalls. “I remember sitting in a hotel in Mississauga and I looked up at the sky, and not one plane was moving – not one plane – nothing was flying. I turned on the television and the news was just full of the day’s events and I asked myself ‘How did this happen?’ ”
Four days later, when he left Toronto, he noticed that there was a different tone in the world – at the airport, the airline company, even when he arrived in British Columbia. He admits he was angry at the people who created the cataclysmic event. “I said to myself, ‘Why couldn’t we have been ready – more ready – to deal with that?’ Nobody had thought about such an event occurring and we should have thought about that. That’s where I started thinking ‘What can I do?’ That’s what began my process.” Now, Darren is one of only seven people in Canada who holds both a master’s degree in Disaster and Emergency Management and a Certified Emergency Manager designation from the International Association of Emergency Managers in the United States.
He went on to gain experience through his work with the Yukon government, as their Critical Infrastructure Resiliency Coordinator, where he developed key disaster and emergency management strategies, including those that were used across the North during the H1N1 crisis in 2009. Darren has also been the Deputy Minister’s Senior Advisor for Emergency Management and an instructor with the Canadian Emergency Management College in Ottawa. He gained front-line experience as a soldier, an RCMP auxiliary officer and a Level 2 firefighter. His work has earned him recognition in the form of two ministerial decorations from the Yukon government and he is also a recipient of the Yukon Government’s Premier’s Award of Excellence. Now he’s passing his extensive knowledge on to students through a program he feels confident will meet a high demand for graduates who are expected to address everything from natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes and biological outbreaks to man-made threats such as terrorism. “College of the North Atlantic allowed me the opportunity to come in on a ground floor program and develop it according to what my experience has been as a practitioner,” Darren says. “I know what industry wants, I know what the federal government needs, I know what the provincial government should have and I know what municipal governments demand.”
He says governments and industry need expertly trained disaster and emergency management practitioners who can not only handle the pressures and unique challenges of an emergency event, but also develop capacities for prevention, preparedness, mitigation, response and recovery and, most importantly, demonstrate unwavering leadership in the face of adversity.
“My colleagues and I agree that, if we could create one program within a post-secondary institution, this is what it would look like.” Darren says the program will appeal to people who have a thirst for disaster and emergency management and want to make a true difference within people’s lives by engaging in the protection of their community, their province, and their country.
He says while 9/11 was the epitome of a human-induced terrorist event, people are also becoming more aware of natural events that create havoc and mayhem.“We’re dealing with the realization that people have to be more aware of where they are living and what they are actually going to be exposed to. Governments have to recognize that they have a responsibility to their citizens to ensure that they are prepared for a natural or human-induced disaster or emergency event.”
He says the simple question “What can I do?” is the most important one for emergency management practitioners. “That’s really where it all starts. ‘What can I do to make my world better for your kids, my kids, my family, your family, and to ensure at your deepest and darkest moment that there is a shining light at the other end?’ I know that sounds somewhat philosophical but it’s truly what I think,” he says. “It is often stated that practitioners of disaster and emergency management walk into situations where angels fear to tread We do this because we swear an oath to protect the members of our community at all costs, so I guess we do have a choice. I have already made my decision, now we need to ask the question of prospective students ‘Are you ready to make your decision?’ ”