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

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

 

The calm of employees darting to and from work and innocent passersby enjoying a sunny Monday stroll in north Toronto was shattered on April 23rd, when an individual hopped a curb near the intersection of Yonge and Finch and engaged in a murderous rampage, running down and killing 10 people, while injuring 16. A terrified city immediately fell into a state of shock and fear, then mourning as the names of the deceased and injured were eventually released.

The alleged driver of the vehicle, Alek Minassian, was quickly apprehended by police, ending the rampage and restoring a new normalcy to the city. While Toronto is one of the safest cities on the planet, we were all reminded of the need to be vigilant and prepared for emergency situations, however unlikely they may be. That last part is important. Only a tiny fraction of one-per cent of us will ever be involved in such a gut-wrenching tragedy.

For that we can all be thankful.

The challenge is that when disaster strikes or an individual or a group of people become intent on causing harm to others, we must be prepared to react with a comprehensive emergency preparedness and disaster response plan (EPDRP). I outlined the importance of having just such a strategy in place in a recent blog, focusing on the nuts and bolts of designing a customized plan that makes sense for your organization.

But the Toronto van attack targeted pedestrians on a public street. How would an EPDRP help in such a situation? The answer, in this case, is that it wouldn’t. But a variation of that tragedy plays out in workplaces with alarming frequency across North America—particularly in jurisdictions where gun ownership is more widely accepted. Increasingly, vehicles are becoming the weapon of choice for those intent on causing harm thanks to their availability and ease of access. All it takes is for someone to drive a van through a storefront or to run down employees in a busy parking lot—see the murder of a Canadian forces member by way of car attack in Quebec in 2014—and the ease at which these crimes can be committed becomes apparent.

For commercial property owners and managers, not to mention employers intent on protecting their staff, the EPDRP is a tool to help ensure readiness and to take action when worst-case scenarios play out.  The one point I want to re-emphasize from that previous blog in the wake of the Toronto van attack is the need to communicate the plan to employees, and to conduct regular drills to make its deployment simple and reflexive. It’s crucial to work with your security firm or in-house security personnel to develop a plan that addresses potential vulnerabilities across your workplace. The plan should also nod to operational realities such as shift changes or periods of increased vulnerability, as well as logistical concerns relating to the layout of your property or building.

Most importantly, we remind our clients that an effective EPDRP is about people more than anything else, and most notably how they react in a challenging situation. The key is to remind employees, residents (in the case of a condominium property), customers or other stakeholders of the importance of remaining calm in a troubling situation. Then it’s about ushering them to safety and away from danger as soon as possible. At times that could involve a lockdown scenario if an assailant is threatening your property. In the event of an attack similar to the van incident, it could mean remaining inside a building until receiving the all-clear from authorities.

Deploying a plan and keeping stakeholders calm and safe will be the responsibility of your security team. Are they sufficiently trained in these protocols? Are there enough security personnel on duty at any given time to ensure that if an emergency situation occurs, your organization will have the staffing needed to keep the building and everyone inside it safe and secure? Again, these may only be once-in-a-lifetime incidents, but when they happen, you need to be ready.

Almost nothing could have prevented the tragic van attack that shattered so many lives, but if there is any positive lesson we can glean from the incident, it’s that it’s never too late to be prepared for emergency situations—even the most unlikely.

In part two of this blog, I’ll explore another important takeaway from this tragic event.

Winston Stewart, founder

Wincon Security