Canadian Security Magazine

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada outsource TRA

Jennifer Brown   


Protecting government assets and employees is a massive responsibility and one that requires constant oversight.

As part of the National Threat and Risk Assessment Process, government departments must conduct regular assessments of threats and risks that may affect their facilities, operations and locations across Canada to determine the necessity of safeguards beyond baseline security levels.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) is just one federal government ministry that has been undergoing a process of conducting Threat Risk Assessments (TRAs) of its broad spectrum of facilities across the country.

AAFC provides policies, programs, information, and technology that aids in the protection of the nation’s food system, health of the environment and innovation for growth.
The agriculture and agri-food sector comprises primary agriculture, food and beverage processing, and distribution, including retail and food service outlets. The sector accounts for about eight per cent of the country’s GDP; generates about $130 billion in consumer sales in Canada each year; exported more than $30.5 billion in agricultural and food products in 2006; contributed almost $7.4 billion to Canada’s overall trade surplus; and employs about two million people or one in eight jobs in the country.

AAFC has 170 regional offices, research and program delivery centres, a farm and a museum that focuses on agriculture, food and beverage processing, and distribution, including retail and food service outlets.


“Our operational zone could be a farmer’s field,” says Robert King, who heads up physical security with AAFC in Ottawa. “We have everything from milking cattle, research animals, up to modern office buildings and everything in between.”

AAFC is considered the second largest landholder in the country. And while many might think agriculture is not a serious target, King says they fail to see the big picture.

“Sometimes people say, ‘This is only agriculture,’ but the fact is it’s a government facility and we have to meet the same security requirements as everyone else. Things change – one month we might be a high profile risk but for six months nothing may happen. One of our biggest responsibilities is security of our people and you just can’t have the free-flow of the public through government buildings.”

Five years ago, the federal government determined that it wanted all government ministries, agencies and departments to conduct TRAs of their assets, such as facilities, offices and research centres, as well as financial and intellectual property assets.

Government security policy now requires that assets must be safeguarded according to a baseline security requirement and continuous security management. An initial TRA establishes a baseline for providing appropriate security and serves as a tool for continuous risk management.

AAFC was one of the first ministries to undertake the TRA project and is in the fourth year of its five-year plan. To ensure that it had the right expertise required to undertake a TRA, AAFC sourced experts externally, hiring three people, two for eastern and central Canada, and one for the west from Manitoba to B.C.  

Commissionaire Terry Shorten was assigned to the task of conducting the TRA’s for Western Canada on a one-year contract, which was renewed after the first year. Shorten, a risk assessment officer employed by AAFC, is based in Regina on contract with the federal government and reports in directly to King.

Shorten has 35 years of experience in facilities security and management including work with Sask Energy.
AAFC decided that it wanted to have someone with a knowledge of the various regions take on the TRAs rather than parachuting someone in from Ottawa who may not know the particular challenges of each region.

“Terry is a face they can go to and know and trust,” says King.

By outsourcing the TRA work to the Commissionaires and having people like Shorten in the specific regions, it allows the regular departmental security staff within AAFC to focus on other work and saves the department money.

“In our case, we have divided the AAFC project into east, central and west. This not only reduces travel expenses, but also helps to free up their full time security department staff for day-to-day security responsibilities that all government operations face these days. It also helps to bring an outside perspective to the TRA process,” says Shorten. “I had some western knowledge and ability to look at situations out here and make determinations based on the territory. Security on a ranch or research farm or facility or office building can be very different things and you have to bring it down to that level of what are the requirements at that juncture.”

Shorten explains that the TRA is a five-step process:
1.     Identification of assets: What are we protecting?
2.    Identification of threats: From what threats?
3.     Identification of vulnerabilities: What are the locations of specific vulnerabilities?
4.     Assessment of the risks: What is the likelihood of something happening? This is generally expressed as high, medium or low security levels
5.    Mitigation of Risks: How can we eliminate or minimize the risks at these locations? A response of “do nothing” is acceptable as long as management has taken all the risk factors into consideration or feels current security measures are adequate.

In conducting the TRAs, certain background information is required:
•     Establish the scope of the assessment by identifying the employees, public, facility/property assets and information to be safeguarded at the location.
•     Obtain drawings, floor plans, site maps for each facility or property.
•     Determine the threats to employees, the public and assets at the location including environmental, weather, crime stats etc.
•     Assess the likelihood and impact of threat occurrence at the location.
•     Asses the risk based on the adequacy of existing safeguards and vulnerabilities.
•     Collect emergency response info from RCMP, local police, fire ambulance service.
•     Report all supplementary safeguards that will reduce the risk to acceptable levels

As part of the TRA, Shorten also looks at factors such as environmental threats like wind, floods, tornados, earthquakes, ice storms and even how large winter storms relate to the security and safety of staff and the protection of research, information and physical assets.

“It all ties back into being prepared for issues that may locally affect a specific facility and the work it does,” says Shorten. “Proper plans and procedures include business continuity, disaster management, emergency spill response, bomb incident planning and emergency evacuation plans — they all play an important role in threat and risk assessments at a location.”

The department constantly monitors for any change in the threat environment and makes adjustments necessary to maintain an acceptable level of risk and a balance between operational requirements, security and safety of individuals working for AAFC.

The results of the TRAs are provided to the individual facilities of AAFC and observations and recommendations are made.
“ We look for a response in 60 days and it’s determined how it will be funded and upgraded for the next fiscal year,” says King. “It’s up to them to decide how they will achieve it. If it’s an issue of access control we don’t say use turnstiles, it’s up to them to determine how to remedy it.”

Shorten says the approach has been to make recommendations that suit the environment of the location and to take into consideration the impact any additional security application may have on the workers at the location.

“While it is rare that that we ever think of terrorism in Western Canada every once in a while there is a situation that makes you think differently. When I was working for Sask Energy we never thought much about it until we heard about a gas company in the U.S. and a customer came in and shot up the place. Luckily we live in a different society in Canada where we don’t think about that a lot,” he says.

When it comes to AAFC, Shorten says environmentalists can be cause for concern and you need a plan for how you would handle that situation.
“I think there’s an eagerness to be more prepared than we were before. I think the attitude was always: ‘That will never happen here.’ Now there is feeling we don’t think it will happen here but we should be prepared,” says Shorten.

“The world has changed in the past 10 years – in Western society what we thought the world looked like has changed since 9/11 but that doesn’t mean we need to make huge changes around security in Canada. What it means is we need to look at what we’ve got and determine if what we have in place is appropriate.”

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