From JMU to the Pacific Northwest

Chris Butters’ ('17) journey in serving and protecting communities


by Emma Seli ('23)

Chris Butters

JMU alumnus Chris Butters is a dedicated public servant passionate about his country. He graduated in 2017 with a B.S. in Integrated Science and Technology (ISAT), specializing in emergency management. Butters serves as a Response Officer for the U.S. Coast Guard in Seattle, Washington, where he coordinates and executes emergency responses.

His unit, known as Sector Puget Sound, is in command of all Coast Guard operations spanning most of Washington state, including the Puget Sound, along the Canadian border, northern Idaho, and the entire state of Montana. His responsibilities cover many emergencies — including search and rescue, pollution responses, marine environmental protection, facilitating the marine transportation system, as well as protecting living marine resources, including the vast Native American tribal fisheries in the Pacific Northwest.

“Oil and Hazardous Materials incidents occur without warning, requiring swift, critical decisions that can have long-lasting impacts to the communities we serve,” says Butters. “The skills he developed while at JMU help me critically analyze the decisions my team needs to make and employ the best outcome for sensitive marine environment of the Pacific Northwest.” 

Butters explains, “Right now is salmon gillnet fishing season for the tribes, and they can cast their nets out and block the waterway if necessary, so if a boat damages the net, they are liable to pay the tribe.” Protecting the environment and the tribes’ rights is crucial to his job.

ISAT’s multidisciplinary STEM curriculum and emphasis on team-based learning gave him the knowledge and experience to understand and handle various complex situations.

His work with the Harrisonburg community taught him to communicate and work with others as well. He regularly manages stressful situations and uses an integrated approach when coordinating and executing an operation.

Butters describes a memorable experience in the Coast Guard — when he spent two months on an icebreaker ship in the Arctic Circle. The National Science Foundation and Monterey’s Navy postgrad school were researching the effects of climate change on sea ice.

“Everyone was truly disconnected… we were hanging out in the galley playing board games, and the scientists would let us help with their experiments. That was really cool,” Butters recalls.

His ISAT education and work with the Rockingham County Fire Department as a Firefighter/EMT helped give him the skills and drive necessary for his career with the Coast Guard. Butters realized his passion for serving his community and improving the world.

Butters commends the ISAT program for hiring professors with real-world experience and giving students a catered and hands-on education. This valuable skillset has helped Butters work with various communities, industries, and countries, as he often works with Canada.

“To this day, I still use things I learned in ISAT,” Butters explains. He remains in contact with ISAT professor Ronald Raab and seeks advice. On one occasion, he asked Raab for guidance on an emergency operation related to hazardous materials leaking into the Puget Sound. Raab’s assistance was crucial in preventing a ship from sinking, potentially saving hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars.

Butters' says his ISAT capstone experience was invaluable. His project focused on integrating Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) into emergency management. Drawing from the knowledge gained in the course, he launched a drone program within his unit in Seattle. Drones are deployed for tasks such as responding to oil spills and aiding in search and rescue operations conducted by law enforcement throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Butters leveraged the experiences he gained at JMU and with the Rockingham County Fire Department to forge his path in the Coast Guard. He envisions a long-term commitment, aspires to advance into higher-ranking positions, and hopes to relocate to Washington, D.C., or New York.

His unique experiences made Butters fall in love with the Coast Guard. He gets to travel around the world, save lives, and protect the environment.

“I believe in the mission, and I like what we do. We are absolutely making a difference every day,” he says.


Learn more about JMU's ISAT major.

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Published: Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Last Updated: Friday, December 8, 2023

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