Convocation 2024: How Tamara Rose found opportunity in disaster

Pandemic set new career in motion for Disaster and Emergency Management grad

In Winter 2020, as headlines around the world began announcing a newly discovered virus, Tamara Rose had no idea how profoundly it would affect her life.

At the time, she was an executive assistant for a Calgary non-profit dedicated to helping people with HIV. She and one of the organization’s doctors were paying close attention to the highly infectious disease we now know as COVID-19. People thought they were being alarmist, but the outbreak scared them.

In the weeks before the world shut down, Rose began to educate herself on pandemic planning. The organization started ordering PPE for their clients. They wrote pandemic policies. And they started arranging emergency grocery supplies for clients.

Then the pandemic was declared. Suddenly, emergency management officials were front and centre, on TV, online, in the papers, acting as the sources of information that would ultimately see the world through the worst of what was to come. Upon seeing where her foray into disaster and emergency management might lead, Rose realized that she’d found her passion.

“I had no idea that there were all these people behind the scenes organizing these responses on a much larger scale,” says Rose, now set to graduate from Disaster and Emergency Management (DEM).

“Once they came out of the woodwork and started having a public face, I was like, ‘OK, now I just have to figure out where to go to school to do that.’”

Learn what you can do with a Disaster and Emergency Management diploma

Worth the investment

photo of paramedic students participating in simulation at NAIT's centre for advanced simulation

The doctor she worked with at the start of the pandemic thought she was crazy. Rose had a young family and had just moved from Calgary to Regina. Adding full-time schooling seemed like its own disaster in the making.

But Rose didn’t take the decision lightly. She hunted for the right way to get into her dream job, which meant finding an education with a combination of affordability, flexibility and learning from professionals. She found that at NAIT, as a fully online program.

During the day, Rose worked as a self-employed executive assistant for multiple clients. At night, she did coursework. “It’s like my family didn’t see me for a couple of years, but it was worth it,” she says.

Rose feels the return outweighed the investment because of the unique experience the program offered – one being a first even for NAIT.

Rose and the other students set up in a lab across campus, manipulating the plot and adding twists.

“CommuniCare 2024” was the brainchild of first-responder students who wanted to close language gaps between health-care disciplines. While they work with a common goal of ensuring high-quality patient care, each can approach it from a different perspective using different terminology. The students suggested a simulation be created to identify areas for improvement.

The design and coordination of that simulation was turned over to DEM students, who came up with a building collapse involving multiple casualties, all of it to be staged in NAIT’s state-of-the-art Centre for Advanced Simulation. Nobody told them what they couldn’t do with the exercise, so Rose and four fellow students pushed the boundaries.

The result was the biggest simulation event in NAIT’s history, involving around 60 students and staff.

Rose and the other DEM students set up in a data visualization lab across campus, manipulating the plot and adding twists to keep participants on their toes. They also set up future students by building templates and project management booklets on how to hold and possibly even improve on the event.

Like any good disaster and emergency management specialist, Rose simply wanted them to be as prepared as possible.

Beyond boots on the ground

photo of tamara rose, nait disaster and emergency management student at communicare 2024

While emergency preparedness is showing signs of improvement since Rose first began investigating measures, and later opportunities, following the arrival of COVID-19, there is much progress to be made. A 2023 survey by the Government of Alberta found that 45% of respondents felt unprepared in the face of adversity. Among the reasons was the need for more information.

That’s where Rose will come in – along with the new thinking on the subject that her studies have encouraged.

In addition to completing her diploma virtually and working in Regina with students from across Canada to design CommuniCare 2024, Rose finished a capstone project remotely, crafting an emergency plan for a Philip Morris International factory in North Carolina. She’s part of a generation of professionals that sees opportunities for making a difference from a distance.

photo of tamara rose, nait disaster and emergency management studentBecause of that, she’s looking at extending her self-employed status to take on business continuity planning, furnishing organizations with the information they need no matter where they are.

“It can be done remotely,” says Rose.

“I think that’s probably newer to this sector, as a lot of disaster management is a ‘boots-on-the-ground’ mentality. But it doesn’t have to be done that way. A lot of the students who are coming through these virtual programs will start pushing the boundaries.”

Having played a role in the response to the pandemic, and then made the decision to pursue a new career based on that, Rose understands the need to push boundaries.

In the end, whether faced with challenge or opportunity, or both, understanding the risks, making a plan, and putting in the effort to be part of the solution may be the only ways to be truly ready for the future.

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