Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts

Working to protect others

In New York City, Christopher Paquet ’03 has made the protection of lives his daily mission. As the intra-agency liaison officer for New York City’s Office of Emergency Preparedness and Response since July 2009, he plays an integral role in protecting more than nine million lives. His job entails working with the city’s leadership to develop and enhance the response capabilities to biological, natural and man-made disasters. Ensuring the safety of New York City is no small task, especially since the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Christopher Paquet ’03

Christopher Paquet ’03

“Planning to respond to emergencies is never easy,” he says. “The unknowns are great, and the consequences for inadequate planning and response can lead to losses in life. It’s hard to forget that when doing my work every day. The work never ends and nothing is ever one hundred percent.”

But he loves his work. “My job is never boring. I often tell my family and friends that working here is an educational experience every day. Although I bring emergency management experience to the table, I work with world-renowned doctors and experts on very complex public health challenges. The H1N1 response was an opportunity for me to get a crash course on the spread and prevention of influenza. It was exciting to be a part of a response that I knew was helping the citizens of New York.”

Paquet graduated from Wheaton as a political science major, intending to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather as a politician. However, encounters with a different type of leadership sent him in a different direction. As a graduate student at New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service, he took on the heavy responsibility of managing a dorm of over 900 freshmen and 40 residential advisors, who helped the school through a crisis among the student body. During his second year at graduate school, he was given the opportunity to consult with the African Council for Sustainable Health Development, headquartered in Abuja, Nigeria. As part of a team of four, he was asked to assess and report on how to better manage health concerns for the Pan African Health Organization.

“These two experiences made something very clear: I needed to continue working in situations where time is of no luxury and problems sometimes require complex solutions,” he says.

So in May 2005 he took his first job with World Cares Center in New York. The nonprofit organization provides support to people rocked by the September 11 tragedy. He became the center’s first manager for disaster preparation and trauma mitigation. In this position, Paquet traveled throughout the country to hold conferences to share important lessons about disaster management. In his time at World Cares, he also worked to aid the 10,000-plus families who came to New York in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

In his spare time—between responding to bomb threats and flu outbreaks—Paquet serves his community as a volunteer. He co-leads New York City health department’s LGBT (Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender) Health Issues Group, helping the LGBT community gain support and health care.

He also keeps his Wheaton connections as one of three alums who head Wheaton’s Tri-State alumnae/i group, and he continues to value the experience and lessons that led him to his current work. “Wheaton makes it easy for students to explore outside of their comfort zones. In a world as complex as ours, a knowledge of many things is a very powerful tool.”

Photo by Bindy Crouch

About Elizabeth Meyer

Elizabeth Meyer is a student in the Class of 2014.