Feb. 24, 2021

Pandemic Reflections: Bob Maber on how UCalgary responded rapidly and learned on the fly

Recognize a UCalgary team for their exceptional work during the pandemic, by sharing your story through the Pandemic Reflections website
empty campus- TFDL UCalgary
When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, campus was empty and closed. Riley Brandt, University of Calgary photo

UCalgary wants to acknowledge and recognize the efforts of the university community during the pandemic. We reached out to leaders on campus and asked them to reflect on a set of questions.
What we heard through these pandemic reflections is that we have a campus that is resilient, and also a campus that recognizes the work of others during this difficult time.

In the third of a three-part series, we talk to Bob Maber, director of emergency management at the University of Calgary.

As director of emergency management, Maber has led UCalgary teams responding to several significant emergencies, such as the floods of 2013 and the Fort McMurray fires. However, when the pandemic hit, it was unlike any emergency task he had experienced. As new information arrived by the minute, a lot of the decision-making required an assumption element — preparing for many possible outcomes while drawing from years of experience working in the field.

Although working in a fast-paced environment is not new to Maber, he instinctively knew the pandemic would present unique challenges. Standard emergency response protocols and structures were not adequate for the potential impact of this event. He quickly went into collaboration mode. A small team of four grew into a COVID-19 task force incorporating experts and stakeholders across the UCalgary community and external agencies sharing ideas and information in a highly uncertain time.

“Managing through this event would not have been possible without the outstanding work, dedication and ingenuity of all the stakeholders on campus,” says Maber. “I feel like we should be erecting a wall of heroes for those working through COVID.”

Some notable groups and the work they have done during the pandemic:

  • Facilities, for preparing our physical spaces for safe use and access
  • Our health and safety professionals (Staff Wellness, Student Wellness, and Environment, Health and Safety) for the unenviable task of providing advice on something no one has seen before
  • Human Resources and Labour Relations navigating employee impacts
  • Office of the Vice-President (Research) ensuring critical research can continue safely
  • Student Enrolment Services with the massive task of managing course scheduling (juggling) and ensuring the needs of students are met
  • Advancement communications professionals disseminating timely and accurate information in an ever-changing environment
  • Information Technologies for enabling, literally overnight, the technology for people to study and work remotely
  • Faculty who pivoted quickly from in-person to remote curriculum delivery
  • Executive team, providing direction and support

Maber says that “there is an endurance factor we can all take away from this experience.” Although everyone is getting through this time in their way, for Maber, coming out ahead meant supporting those who needed help immediately and quickly.

Maber says, “We’re learning on the go, and the ability to support one another is dependent on what we choose to do in the moment. It was essential at the beginning of the pandemic to appreciate and respect the scale of what was happening.

“We learned a lot those first few months, and now that things are ramping up again, we feel better prepared now that remote learning and working are in place.”

Maber empathizes with staff and students’ desire to return to campus, and says, “We’re in this for the long haul.”

Maber’s calming demeanour and forward thinking helped guide the team through the unknown, while demonstrating the university’s values for learning in the midst of a challenge and making the best possible choices.

Recognition can be simple and fun while its impact is meaningful and lasting

There’s nothing louder than the silence where “thanks” should be. When you see great work happen, make some noise. Being recognized and recognizing others builds a supportive and positive workplace.

It has been nearly a year since the pandemic and we want to hear from you. When reflecting on 2020, challenge yourself to consider what lessons you have learned during this time and how this discovery can impact your recognition of yourself and others.

If you want to recognize any teams who did exceptional work during the COVID-19 pandemic, please submit your stories through the HR Pandemic Reflections website.