Most of us learn the basic responsibilities of our public servants in childhood. The police prevent crime. Paramedics attend to medical emergencies. Firefighters... fight fires. But what do public safety officers do? Every day, employees of Public Safety Canada, the government agency dedicated to protecting citizens from disasters both natural and man-made, do critical work behind the scenes. We are exceptionally well-positioned to examine the nature of a public safety officer’s job—Wilfrid Laurier University’s online Master of Public Safety program is the only one of its kind in Canada which was designed in consultation with Public Safety Canada. Let’s take a closer look.
The Four Pillars of Public Safety Canada
Public Safety Canada (PCS) has an extremely wide purview compared to other comparable agencies. This is because its primary role is to serve as a connective tissue between disparate organs of the state—oftentimes there is overlap between the duties of police services and corrections, for example, or domestic military deployment and border security. PSC helps to coordinate their activities and develop effective strategies in anticipation of potential crises.
The four pillars of Public Safety Canada’s operations are:
- National Security
- Border Strategies
- Counter Crime
- Emergency Management
In this case, Emergency Management refers to coordinating responses to natural disasters, acts of war and terrorism, as well as enacting plans designed to mitigate their potential damage.
The Role of a Public Safety Program Officer
Program officers perform many of the agency’s critical functions. They often work from PSC’s Government Operations Centre (GOC), the nervous system for disaster response in Canada. Per Public Safety Canada’s own description of the GOC, the Centre is responsible for the following:
- 24/7 Monitoring and Reporting
- National-Level Situational Awareness
- Warning Products and Integrated Risk Assessments
- National-Level Planning
- Whole-of-Government Response Management
- Support to Senior Officials
Canada presents distinct logistical challenges to its security organizations. Being the second largest nation on earth by land area, with a sparsely-distributed population and a continent-spanning border with the United States, intelligent resource deployment is critical. There must be constant monitoring of critical infrastructure (both physical and digital), clear procedures for disaster response and analysis of current procedures with an eye to improving future responses.
Each year, the GOC assesses roughly 3,500 “incidents,” with 250 requiring the Centre to issue an alert to the government, and 30 to 40 additional national security incidents. In the past few years alone, Public Safety Canada’s program officers have helped coordinate responses to wildfires, earthquakes, flooding and accidents like the Lac-Mégantic rail explosion.
Public Safety Officer Skills
Due to the demanding nature of the job, PSC’s program officers are highly educated, typically holding graduate degrees in a discipline relevant to their work. Each officer holds a specialized portfolio, which may call for greater skill in areas like GIS and data analytics, policy-making, resource management and logistics.
Program officers must be strong communicators, as the nature of the position prioritizes teamwork and cooperation. In any given operation, PSC may play a lead or supporting role, and officers must be able to adapt fluidly to the circumstances at hand. They must also exhibit strong leadership qualities, as decisiveness is essential in an emergency situation.
Finally, public safety officers must be passionate and committed to the cause of keeping Canadians safe. It is not easy work, and often necessitates long hours and mentally taxing duties. Fortunately, it also provides a rare degree of self-actualization potential, as program officers know with great certainty that the job they do is meaningful.