Canadian Security Magazine

Getting the threat: encouraging co-operation between security and emergency management departments

By Douglas Grant   

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There is an ongoing narrative that Canadians are complacent about the threats and hazards that we face as a modern society, that we have been lulled into a false sense of security by our optimistic worldview and the relative peace and prosperity that we enjoy as a nation.

Security and emergency management practitioners often point to the mindset of “It will never happen here” as a major challenge in implementing and maintaining resilient cultures, but why is this attitude still pervasive, especially within organizations that experience higher levels of risk? Canadians are surrounded by complex safety and security apparatuses that now touch almost every aspect of our lives. We operate within and engage with security structures that are nearly ubiquitous, whether it be security officers at our workplaces and schools, to omnipresent surveillance in our public spaces. With the overwhelming propagation of public safety and security measures within our society, why are we not more cognizant of the threats and hazards that could impact us?

While we interact with complex security structures on a daily basis, we are largely kept both personally and professionally segregated from the individuals and systems that they comprise. There are numerous reasons for this, ranging from the belief that avoiding familiarity is required to ensure professionalism, to a simple lack of understanding of these disciplines on the part of decision makers. Regardless, I would argue that this is ultimately ineffective, and integrating security and emergency management methodologies into an effective and unified framework requires an inclusive approach that many institutions fail to understand. While this approach requires a thoughtful design, it offers tangible benefits, ultimately allowing organizations to cope with a range of threats and hazards that may require the involvement of stakeholders beyond frontline responders.

I would suggest that this process should begin by recognizing and avoiding the tendencies that inhibit the effectiveness of security and emergency management practitioners, specifically isolation and focusing on arbitrary performance metrics. It can be tempting for managers to place security and emergency management resources within a structure that aligns with routine business, rather than one which accommodates the unique focus of these professionals. This often results in a simplistic org-chart where security focuses on human threats and emergency management focuses on fires, floods, and other natural and technological hazards, ideally without distracting anyone from engaging in core business operations. While this approach may meet regulatory requirements, it fails to take into account the inherent differences between regular business operations and emergencies. After all, an emergency is far from “business as usual.”

While security and emergency management both focus on preventing and coping with disruptions they go about this task in very different ways. Where security practitioners often take the role of tactical responders, emergency managers by contrast tend to view themselves as facilitators. The goal of the facilitator is not to single handedly respond to an emergency, but rather to establish connections between parts of a system, ultimately allowing the for the system as a whole to respond more effectively to disruptions. This approach is often most effective when it focuses on ensuring that decision makers take system-level views of disruptions rather than addressing problems through a single lens of experience. As such, emergency management processes should not be made to focus on taking response duties away from security professionals, but rather on building and integrating relationships into a cohesive system that can be implemented during an emergency. This allows an organization to leverage the resources, skills and expertise of diverse stakeholders during disruptions, ultimately increasing its capabilities dramatically.

Existing emergency management methodologies already allow for this approach, particularly within variations of the incident command system. Many organizations focused on critical infrastructure utilize incident management frameworks that allow leaders to integrate security practitioners into a co-ordinated emergency management effort, taking advantage of the situational awareness of these responders without compromising their ability to operate effectively. This approach ultimately provides benefits to both parties, providing leaders with an understanding of the priorities and requirements of security staff while ensuring that tactical responders have the resources and strategic coordination needed to be successful.

Ultimately, implementing a unified security and emergency management framework is something that can be accomplished, but it requires a recognition that security and emergency management practitioners do not easily conform to routine business practices, and a willingness to listen to the needs of these professionals. By taking an inclusive approach that collaborates with subject matter experts, organizations can establish a level of resilience that cannot be achieved by dictating the terms under which these professionals can operate.

Douglas Grant is an ‎Emergency Management Consultant with ‎Calian. Read more of Douglas’s comments in the Emergency Management Roundtable featured in the upcoming July/August issue of Canadian Security.

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