Nova Scotia shooting: RCMP emergency alert policy in place two years later

OTTAWA-

Two years after being criticized for not issuing an emergency alert during a 1 p.m. shooting in Nova Scotia, the RCMP has finally implemented a national Alert Ready policy.

The eight-page internal policy took effect March 1 and was provided to The Canadian Press by the RCMP.

It describes the circumstances in which a public alert can be used, including active shooter situations, terrorist attacks, riots and natural disasters.

Each commander is expected to establish a Public Alerting Coordinator position and maintain statistics on the use of alerts.

According to the policy, members collect information about the incident, who is involved — including a description of the person and vehicle, if there is one — where and when it happened, why the alert is issued and “the actions the public is expected to take.”

Supervisors or unit commanders approve such requests, and the RCMP says the decision to use an alert is “at the discretion of the officers responding to and managing the incident.”

“RCMP policy provides a guide for dealing with incidents but does not require officers to issue alerts because policy can never respond to all possible situations,” an RCMP spokesperson said in a statement. e-mail.

In April 2020, gunman Gabriel Wortman murdered 22 people in Nova Scotia while dressed as a cop and driving a fake police car. The killing spanned over 100 kilometers and over 13 hours, but the emergency alert system was never activated to warn the public.

The RCMP instead used Twitter to share information.

The force said it was drafting an alert when the shooter was killed by police on April 19, but the ongoing public inquiry into the shooting also revealed senior officers did not know how to use the system.

Family members of the victims said lives could have been saved if people had known sooner. The Public Inquiry has been tasked with investigating RCMP communications with the public during and after that weekend.

Supt. Dustine Rodier, who was in charge of the operational communications center during filming, told the inquest last week that “Alert Ready would be considered” in an active fire event now.

Previously released evidence confirmed that senior RCMP officers feared a wider public alert could have put officers at risk by causing a ‘frenzied panic’. The gendarmerie also suggested that 911 operators could have been overwhelmed by callers seeking information.

Nova Scotia has used the emergency alert system 12 times since the shooting for events involving police action. Paul Mason, the head of Nova Scotia’s emergency management office, told the inquest “we haven’t seen massive panic in response to the use of the system.”

Cheryl McNeil, a consultant and former Toronto police worker, called the theory a “panic myth” and said “as long as the alerts are clear, concisely stated and provide direction, I don’t see how the Panic can be an expected result of informing the public of information they need to know. »

The RCMP’s national policy states that “there will be an increase in calls” after an alert is sent, which will likely strain resources. He recommends bringing in more staff if possible.

Rodier told the inquest that the best way to counter this is to educate the public about emergency alerts, but she also said the RCMP had not developed any public education tools. She said it would depend on the province.

The new policy states that it is up to the commanders of each division to work with provincial or territorial authorities to establish public alerting protocols, including what to do if the incident moves from one province or territory. one territory to another.

The RCMP can now issue its own alerts in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, thanks to agreements signed with the two provinces since the shooting.

In 2016, the Nova Scotia Emergency Management Office offered the RCMP the ability to issue alerts because police have 24-hour staff and are “better positioned to respond quickly to events that are taking place,” according to a summary of evidence released at the public inquiry.

The offer was not accepted.


This report from The Canadian Press was first published on June 17, 2022.

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