Dean Cassar: Senior officer in security and emergency management, Integrity Services Branch, a part of Service Canada

I work at the kind of branch almost.

I work at the kind of branch almost all government agencies consult to maintain continuity of service in case of an emergency – from a flood to a war to an earthquake or a pandemic. Whatever happens, our offices keep running.

Before I took George Brown’s Emergency Management Certificate, I was working for the Competition Bureau, mainly in procurement. Because I didn’t have a specific degree, I was told I was at the end of the line – I was not going to move any further up.

I told myself that no one is going to create any breaks for me. I have to rely on myself. So I decided to go back to school.

I started part-time at George Brown and found that I still had some brain cells left. I was excited to be in the program and decided to take as many courses as I could handle. I walked out with three certificates because they hadn’t yet established a diploma. I took 10 courses over two and a half years.

The teachers had exceptional knowledge. They are ex-CSIS, ex-police and people who are still involved with the military. We had instructors who are actively working in the field. We covered things like emergency communications and how governments, particularly in Canada, deal with emergencies. Our graduation marking scheme was based on drawing up an emergency response plan and working on it in real time with the Toronto Heavy Urban Search and Rescue Team (HUSAR).

With this job, every day something is happening – from someone threatening to commit suicide to an office being closed by a forest fire to bomb threats or a major event like the G20 in Toronto.

The hours can be quite long. Frequently we’re assigned to different parts of the province. Flying to Thunder Bay in the middle of the day in winter is not uncommon. We get a lot of assignments at the same time with crazy deadlines, so you have to be really savvy with your time.

A big part of this job is networking. Your networks can get you in contact with people with different resources and information that you need.

People who excel in this job are calm. You have to be able to look at a situation and work through all aspects of it, even if some are pretty strange. You have to do an analysis to establish the best next step. You have to understand the agency or department that you’re working for in terms of developing strategies and getting the higher-ups to buy in to them. Charisma, networking skills and calmness are the important elements of this job.

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