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One of the most enduring memories from the vicious van attack near the busy Yonge-Finch intersection that shook Toronto residents last month—not to mention Canadians from across the country—was the scene of bodies strewn across the sidewalk, desperately awaiting medical help.

First responders acted so quickly and with such incredible professionalism that it was clear their work helped limit the carnage to 10 dead and 16 wounded. Without their swift action, who knows how high the death toll could have climbed?

Another image was just as powerful. That was the alleged driver of the van, Alek Minassian, being arrested by an officer who used both discretion and restraint to take the man down without firing a single shot. But watch the footage of the arrest closely and you’ll notice something going on in the background that was as interesting as it was disturbing—a handful of individuals emerged from an office building and stood for a second, stunned, watching the bizarre incident playing out before them.

Now, it would be easy to chastise the individuals for not immediately realizing what was happening—in particular, noticing a police officer who at that point was brandishing his gun—and quickly taking cover. But why would they? Toronto is a remarkably safe city. Situations like these are unprecedented and would leave anyone reasonably grasping for a real-time plan to maintain their own safety. The video shows the bystanders slowly coming to the realization that standing by and watching the events unfold wasn’t the wisest course of action. They soon disappear offscreen.

In my last blog I underscored the importance of designing a comprehensive emergency preparedness and disaster response plan for your organization or commercial property, and being ready and able at all times to activate it. I want to highlight another important lesson from this incident: that effective security strategies don’t necessarily end at your building’s front door.

In an emergency situation, your security team (which could be composed of in-house staff or personnel from an outsourced firm such as Wincon Security) must spring into action to secure the premises and ensure the safety of everyone inside. That’s a given. But the property’s EPDRP should include a contingency for extending those protocols to the outside of the building, as well. Why? As we saw in the video footage from the van attack, it’s reasonable to assume that a building’s occupants could—unwittingly or not—wander outside your front door and find themselves in the middle of a dangerous situation.

Ideally, after identifying the risks associated with the situation and making a real-time assessment to determine how best to manage it, your security team will alert a building’s occupants of the need to remain calm, follow instructions and seek safety. Let’s assume your building has a PA system—and if not, that’s another major problem that needs to be addressed. If the threat or emergency is occurring off of the premises, it’s then up to security to make an announcement requesting that occupants remain inside until given further notice. If not, then an evacuation might be in order.

Either way, security teams need to be given a mandate to monitor activities across a property, including in the surrounding grounds or neighbourhood, while always staying on top of breaking news and developments to keep a step ahead of the situation. Our team members are trained to do exactly that, with their duty being to secure a complete perimeter, not only the core area that is the focus of their daily patrol duties. Unfortunately, not every security firm takes the same comprehensive approach.

We can be thankful that none of the individuals in that second video (of the alleged attacker’s takedown) were injured in any way, although I’m sure they were at least slightly shaken when they realized the magnitude of the scene playing out in front of them. But with the right planning, training and a proactive, strategic approach to security, their incursion into a live, potential shooting incident, could have been stopped. Let’s hope commercial property owners, managers and security teams take this lesson to heart when the time comes to revise their security plans—then take the time to extend those plans past the threshold of their buildings.

Winston Stewart, founder

Wincon Security

Photo courtesy of CBC News