Day in the Life: Daphne Donaldson

- Melanie Groves

You would be forgiven if you believed that Daphne Donaldson had invented the phrase "keep calm and carry on." After a 30-year career at UVic and many years as the university's emergency planner, she concedes that "the moment I hear a fire truck I hesitate because I wonder if something has occurred. I'm attuned to those sorts of noises."

"Some people wonder why I like to spend my days thinking about disaster," she says, "but I think more about being proactive and getting people to recognize that there are simple things they can do to become better prepared. When I see that people are engaged and taking ownership of emergency planning, creating independence, that warms my heart."

Donaldson arrived at UVic in 1985 after beginning her career as a hospital lab tech in BC and Australia. Armed with a BSc degree from UBC and an interest in research, she was originally hired as a biochemistry/microbiology research assistant working on genetic studies of the parasite that causes sleeping sickness.

When a position opened up in the new Occupational Health and Safety unit in 1988, she shifted gears to become the university's first chemical/biosafety officer. Following the shootings at Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal in 1989, Donaldson was seconded with a colleague from Simon Fraser University to develop university emergency plans. "That's when I first became hooked on this," she says. "I could see that there was so much that needed to be done-the world of emergency planning was a blank canvas and I felt as if I could make a difference." Her position moved to Campus Security in 2014.

"My job is very diverse," Donaldson says. "There is no typical day-if the phone rings you need to respond." She spends a significant part of her time meeting with staff, students, faculty, colleagues and suppliers, and making sure UVic's two Emergency Operations Centres, Emergency Call Centre and emergency supplies are ready for action. Donaldson also develops and delivers staff training and emergency exercises, and is a key member of the university's Emergency Communications Group.

She has developed strong connections with emergency planners in municipalities, Emergency Management BC and other universities. "I monitor disasters going on in the world and try to learn from those. Probably the best part is how much I learn all the time from other people-being in a learning environment and hearing other stories and perspectives. It's challenging because some people believe that nothing will ever happen. I have to use a lot of persuasion and narrative, and it's so important to maintain a sense of humour."

One of the highlights of Donaldson's career was travelling with a UVic contingent to visit the University of Canterbury (UC) in Christchurch, New Zealand after the 2011 earthquake. "It was very powerful not only to learn from UC about their procedures and protocols but also to see the aftermath in their city, which is so like Victoria-that had a big impact on me." She also cites the day the emergency shipping container arrived-now packed full of supplies on the UVic playing fields-as "immensely fun and exciting."

Although Donaldson will retire from her UVic position in June, she will by no means retire her passion for emergency planning. "I will miss everything about my job-the challenges, the people and the feeling that, though I've provided a framework, there is always so much more to be done."

She is looking forward to working with the UVic Retirees Association on emergency preparedness, and to do volunteer work with a non-profit agency for animal welfare. "Animals play a big role in my life and I'd like to be able to help," she says. She also plans to spend quality time with her family, including her beloved Westie, travel more and indulge her passion for garden photography. "Being immersed in beauty and creating something beautiful is a nice antidote to always thinking about disasters," she admits.

The former world indoor rowing champion has also dusted off her rower from underneath the emergency kits in her garage. "I'm realizing how important it is to be resilient in a disaster by developing healthy habits, including a good diet, activity and a strong support network."

Pulling an organic chocolate bar from her bag, Donaldson winks, "And it's essential to ensure you have emergency chocolate 'just in case' for major catastrophes or day-to-day crises-it's a critical part of keeping calm and carrying on."


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Keywords: Day in the Life, staff

People: Daphne Donaldson

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