When you haven’t thrown a civic party quite as huge as the NBA Championship parade that crowded downtown Toronto on Monday, you can be forgiven for overlooking a few details. If the Raptors players arrived on stage a few minutes late, for example, it would be excusable. If local streets were a little over-clogged, it wouldn’t be such a big deal.

But maintaining public safety and security is one area where we simply can’t drop the ball. At times on Monday, the city missed worse than Shaq at the free throw line.

The good news overall is that despite a shooting that sent four people to hospital, a minor stabbing incident and a few scuffles, the day to celebrate our basketball champions went relatively smoothly. There were no deaths, no rioting and no reported looting—a low bar for a public gathering to be sure, but one that’s unfortunately come to set the mark for the success of any successful North American sports rally.

For someone who was in the heart of the action and had a bird’s eye view as it all played out— stage left at Nathan Phillips Square to be exact—there were still many security lessons to take away from these historic festivities. The unfortunate reality is that the city fell asleep at the wheel when it came to making proactive preparations for our new favourite sports team’s proudest moment.

So, without casting blame, let’s simply make sure to do better next time. Here’s how:

Event planning is key

What became obvious as I stood in the jam-packed square awaiting the team’s arrival was how the city could have benefited from maintaining a standing special events strategy to manage such an occasion. Perhaps it’s because we haven’t had to plan a parade since the Blue Jays won back-to-back World Series in 1992 and 1993, and not since 1967 for the Maple Leafs, but it’s clear that Toronto lacks a contingency plan for mass celebrations that need to be planned on the fly.

Think of it like having an Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Response Plan, but with a celebratory spin. The strategy should take into account not only crowd control considerations from parade route planning to timing, but also the potential for a seismic crush of people as spectator numbers inevitably exceed expectations. With more than one million Greater Toronto Area residents estimated to have poured in to downtown on Monday, it’s extremely difficult to account for every potential security and crowd-management scenario with only a few days to prepare. A standing plan would help alleviate that stress and risk.

Praise the police—now add even more of them, including security personnel

So packed was Nathan Phillips Square that when shots rang out during the player and dignitary speeches, I wasn’t able to see a portion of the crowd fleeing in fear. There were simply too many people and it was impossible to see more than just a dozen metres away, let alone across the sprawling, modernist piazza.

The police did an extraordinary job responding, apprehending the alleged assailants and keeping the crowd calm and under control. In fact, their presence was felt on the surrounding streets and, for the most part, they used common sense in letting fans party, intervening in the festivities only when necessary. But there could have been even more officers in the square, along with hired security guards, to help keep the crowds from pushing and shoving. I arrived in the space at 9 am and it was already jammed to capacity. People were still pushing their way in six hours later as the speeches began, creating a dangerous situation with the crowd literally swaying in unison as they tried to preserve their collective footing. Having officers stationed in greater numbers in the middle of the crowd might have helped mitigate the risk of a potential crowd control catastrophe.

In one instance, for example, I watched paramedics struggle to make space to remove an individual who took ill in the middle of that swaying pack, eventually hopping a fence in the VIP area to gain access to the person. Emergency access was almost non-existent, creating a dangerous situation.

Improve access control 

Next time around I would love to see access control for Nathan Phillips Square similar to the system used in Jurassic Park, where party-goers have their bags checked and numbers are limited. There is ample food, water and washrooms to accommodate the throngs of people that pack that space, helping to alleviate the crowd rage that can emerge on a hot, sunny day when people are exhausted, thirsty and hungry.

Doing so would also help avoid people entering Nathan Phillips Square with liquor and drugs—there were ample amounts of both on display—which takes away from the family-friendly atmosphere and sets the stage for trouble. At one point I saw parents with two young girls struggling to get one of their children, who was in tears, out of the crowd. She was trapped and the tired crowd was beginning to become more aggressive as it waited for the Raptors’ arrival. The good news: they eventually managed to pull her out. At that point I thought about a potential escape route myself, should the crowd become even more unruly.

What we are reminded is that you can’t allow hundreds of thousands of people to flood into a relatively confined space with no access control and have more people entering than exiting right up until the very end of the celebration.

Speed it up

By all accounts, much of the parade route lacked any kind of roadside barriers to hold back crowds. This meant that excited onlookers could slow the buses and floats—especially the ones carrying team members—to a slow crawl. Players who were supposed to arrive in Nathan Phillips Square at noon didn’t make it there until 3 o’clock. By that point the crowd was in no mood for further delays.

The takeaway here is that parade planning and security needs to be a city-wide initiative. If managing logistics along a lengthy route is too difficult, it may be best to shorten the length of the parade to avoid potential issues. Nearby access roads were so clogged that emergency services vehicles and buses couldn’t move. The TTC suspended service to several subway stations around the square in an attempt to avoid further overcrowding.

I sincerely hope that we can apply these lessons and better manage crowds at future parades, even if the Raptors’ ongoing success may be largely up to Kawhi Leonard to decide. If he signs for another five years, the party could keep going. His contract status notwithstanding, we should be proud of the team’s accomplishments and hold our heads high.

For the most part, Toronto showed its team spirit with dignity, discipline and still managed to throw an unforgettable party. Now, let’s work to do an even better job after our next championship!

Winston Stewart, President and CEO

Wincon Security

Odds are that when most of us look for space in a commercial office tower or a unit in a condominium, little thought goes to the functionality of the building’s elevators. In fact, there’s a good chance that we don’t even think about these fast-moving pieces of infrastructure, unless we have a specific, pre-existing interest in lift operations.

It may be time to start paying attention.

As more high-rise buildings are constructed across the Greater Toronto Area—some soaring to dizzying heights of 80 stories or more—as well as in major urban centres across the country, operational challenges are becoming a more pressing concern for owners and managers of commercial and residential properties. Specifically, a flurry of recent media headlines has focused on residents left stranded when an apartment or condominium building’s entire elevator bank goes out of operation at once. Others have pointed to elevator issues in office towers where, in some cases, tenants have been unable to access their offices despite the significant bottom-line business consequences.

A challenge for mobility-impaired tenants

Other, more damaging, headlines highlight the plight of vulnerable groups of residents such as the disabled and seniors, who wind up stranded in their apartments when lifts are taken out of operation. Not only is this a massive inconvenience, it puts lives at risk when individuals with mobility or cognitive issues are unable to exit buildings in the event of a major emergency such as a fire. In other cases, such as a medical emergency, accessing those same individuals can cost precious minutes and quickly become a matter of life and death. For property owners and managers, this kind of news is not only bad for a property’s brand—negatively impacting tenant attraction and retention, and potentially even rental prices—but also represents a major liability threat.

The obvious solution is to work with a reputable elevator supplier and install only the best possible equipment, then be sure to maintain it on a regular schedule; maintenance must also be coordinated to ensure that all of a building’s elevators aren’t out of service at the same time. But far less obvious is the need to look at elevator operation as a security issue, thereby underscoring its importance.

As we see in so many residential and commercial engagements, few infrastructure-related issues generate more angst, arguments and animosity than those related to elevator functionality. We’ve literally seen fist fights break out over access to lifts when one or more are down, particularly when an elevator is put on service for moving purposes. These problems tend to be exacerbated in older buildings that have only two elevators—newer builds tend to have at least three elevators, two for passengers and one for both passenger and service use.

Looking at elevator performance through a security lens

Our recommendation is to work with your security team—whether outsourced or in-house—to develop a strategy to proactively manage elevator challenges before they arise. For example, if you know that an elevator is due for maintenance, work with your elevator service provider to schedule that servicing well before it turns into a crisis need. Collaborate with both building maintenance and security to determine times that are best suited to conducting maintenance, such as when traffic levels aren’t at their peak and when tenants aren’t attempting to move items into or out of the building. Then be prepared to revise that plan to address ongoing changes to everything from the building’s tenant composition to operational circumstances.

Next, train your guards to understand those procedures and how to implement them at a moment’s notice. That should include arming them with effective communications tools—everything from lobby signage and tenant email addresses, to talking points—designed to keep key stakeholders informed and up-to-date on the status of elevator issues and, most importantly, a timeline explaining when they’ll likely be resolved. One of the most important aspects of that training is enhancing guards’ focus on customer service. Security staff will need to understand how to defuse tenant tensions by showing empathy, while also clearly explaining the plan to address the issue at hand.

Security training is essential

Last, but definitely not least, guards should be trained in the basic operation of necessary control panels and have direct access to your elevator maintenance service provider. All too often, repairs are delayed because managers or guards simply don’t know who to call. That’s an inexcusable oversight that’s easily remedied by preparing an emergency contact list (stored digitally and in hard copy format at a concierge desk or security office) with email addresses and phone numbers for mission-critical service providers.

At a time when sustainable urban planning guidelines are calling for our cities to be built up rather than out, and with more lifts being installed now than at any time in Toronto’s history, treating this key piece of infrastructure as an afterthought is no longer an option. For commercial and residential property owners and managers, the smooth elevator operation stakes are just too high to ignore.

Winston Stewart, President and CEO

Wincon Security