Day in the Life: Rob Johns

- Joanne McGachie

Rob Johns has seen first-hand the destruction and chaos that large-scale disasters can cause. In his previous role with the City of Victoria, UVic’s new manager of emergency planning visited Louisiana and Mississippi following Hurricane Katrina, and Christchurch, New Zealand after its major earthquakes.

“Seeing such massive damage really drives home the importance of emergency planning,” Johns says. “Especially in Christchurch, with its similarities to Victoria in terms of earthquake risks and impacts, I was forcefully reminded that, while we can’t prevent these disasters from happening, we can and must prepare for them.”

Johns has taken over from retired Daphne Donaldson, joining UVic’s Campus Security office in December after 15 years with the City of Victoria working in emergency management. During his time with the city, he was a responder to many different types of emergencies, including evacuations for fire, weather, gas leaks and police events, as well as being involved in the devastating 2003 fire season in BC’s interior. He has been on numerous emergency management planning boards and committees, including co-chairing the committee that established the Great BC ShakeOut.

“A campus is like a mini-city in a lot of ways, and I’m impressed with the emergency preparedness that UVic has in place,” Johns says. “It’s critical that all members of the campus community are engaged in emergency planning, from front-line workers right up to executive. It can’t be up to just one office to prepare for emergencies because when they happen, we all need to be ready to help the students, our colleagues and ourselves.”

And that, Johns says, is what the upcoming Emergency Preparedness (EP) Week (May 1–7) is all about. “We all have busy lives and it’s easy to procrastinate around things that might happen,” he says. “EP Week is a chance to focus some time and energy on preparing for situations where we may have to take care of ourselves and help others for several days, under extremely challenging conditions.”

Johns is planning several events in May, including two workshops on emergency preparedness that will be open to everyone (May 3, 9:30-11 a.m., Strong C126 and May 16, 10:30-noon, Strong C130). There will be a test of UVic’s ‘website light,’ which provides emergency information in a graphics-light format that is quick to load on all devices. As well, the Emergency Alerts notification system will be tested, with voice alerts sent to all staff phones on campus as well as text notifications to registered cell phones.

And then there’s the Quake Cottage, coming to campus for the first time on May 18. The Quake Cottage is a mobile earthquake simulator that allows people to experience what it actually feels like to be in an 8.0-magnitude earthquake. Johns has arranged for the unit to be on campus for a day during its tour of Vancouver Island and BC. It will be in front of the library from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

“The timing didn’t work for it to be up here during EP Week, but it’s going to be a blast having it on campus for a full day,” he says. “It will be fun, but it also has a serious message behind it, and I hope everyone will come out, get shaken up and learn more about how to prepare for the Big One.”

Assisting Johns in EP Week planning has been Emily Boulter who, after almost three years working part-time as the Emergency Planning Assistant and going to school in UVic’s School of Earth and Ocean Science, is moving on to other adventures.

“Working in this office at UVic has been a great learning experience for me,” Boulter says. “I am hoping to be able to continue in the field of emergency management in some capacity—it’s such important work.”

As a UVic alumnus, Johns is enjoying his return to campus, albeit in a very different capacity from his student days. He says it’s been a steep learning curve since he arrived. “I’ve been meeting with as many departments and units as I can to introduce myself and learn about their operations, at least in general terms. It’s great being back up here, and I thought I knew the campus pretty well, but I’ve realized that, as a student, I only scratched the surface of how a university functions.”

So, during the first week of May, keep an eye out for Johns and others in safety vests, and take some time to learn more about what you can do to prepare for emergencies.



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Keywords: administrative, staff, Day in the Life, emergency

People: Rob Johns

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