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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

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

A lot has changed in your business since 1992, the year I founded Wincon Security. You’re undoubtedly facing a vastly different array of complex business challenges—particularly where security is concerned. Finding innovative new ways to bolster everything from your cyber security infrastructure to guarding against facility break-ins—to name only a few obstacles to success—has become increasingly complicated.

A lot has changed in my business, too. What hasn’t is our commitment to service excellence and a dedication to employing the latest cutting-edge technology to keep you and your properties safe. As we’ve worked to maintain those high standards, our business has evolved.

We do far more than train and staff security guards these days, which was the original foundation on which our business was built. We’re now a full-service integrated solutions provider focused on delivering enhanced value to our customers. We build relationships based on trust, while always standing behind our commitment to help you drive improved bottom-line performance from the services we deliver.

That alone would be enough to celebrate in our 25th year in business. But there’s a lot more we’d like you to know about Wincon Security and where the company is headed.

Humble beginnings deliver game-changing opportunities

When I launched the company in the early 1990s, the Internet was slowly gaining mainstream acceptance. Mobile phones were expensive and in limited use. Fax was still a primary means of business communication. And in our industry, facility security was largely managed by key-wielding guards who spent days and nights patrolling buildings or monitoring CCTV cameras, searching for potential problems along the way. It was a very different business environment.

Winston Stewart CEO of Wincon Security based in Toronto, Ontario
Wincon Security founder and CEO, Winston Stewart

I was a young, untested 21-year-old entrepreneur who’d only recently graduated from Seneca College’s law enforcement program. Despite my inexperience, I saw gaps in the security marketplace and figured I could plug them. A couple of jobs in the security field gave me the opportunity to listen to clients who felt they weren’t receiving the kind of value-for-service they expected from their supposedly customer-focused security providers. Those experiences largely shaped my vision for the kind of security offering Wincon could provide. I knew I could do it better, so I did.

We started out with just one client—who we’re proud to say is still part of the Wincon family—and a handful of employees. We’ve since expanded the business and now serve more than 50 Canadian and international corporations, and maintain a roster of more than 200 full- and part-time employees. As with any business, we’ve had to pivot at various points in our history, particularly with the advent of incredible new technology that seemed like the stuff of science fiction in our early days.

A new focus on solving business challenges

So, about five years ago, we started branching into systems solution integration, incorporating high-definition cameras, advanced biometrics, card access systems and cutting-edge security software into our security tool kit. We even use drones for facility patrols, helping to cut costs, improve efficiency and further reduce risk for owners and managers of retail, commercial, condominium, office and industrial properties. By building strong partnerships with suppliers across North America and beyond, we now have access to high-tech equipment capable of meeting virtually any security need you might have, particularly when coupled with our 24-hour support and facility monitoring service.

That focus on innovation was driven by a desire to continue being the Greater Toronto Area’s security service provider of choice for the next decade and beyond—admittedly not an easy feat in a highly-competitive industry such as ours. We believe that with new technology in hand and a focus on solutions integration, we can continue to personalize our service offering to better suit organizations such as yours.

A service-first culture

Thanks to our boutique structure, we’re able to sit down with you, listen and take the time to understand your needs, inspect your property and review assets in need of protection, then deliver a customized service plan that’s both affordable and sustainable. We take pride in identifying and helping you understand the vulnerabilities you don’t even know you had.

All of this means continuing to find new ways to improve training for our staff and enhancing client communications. The former process is ongoing as we introduce new technology to our employees and train them on its effective deployment. When it comes to communications, we have plans to keep you better informed than ever thanks to a new blogging, social media and newsletter initiative that will showcase everything from industry insights and risk-mitigation strategies, to Wincon news and developments across our company.

While I’m so proud to celebrate our 25TH year, I’m even more excited about the opportunity to be of greater service to you in the years ahead.

Winston Stewart, founder

Wincon Security