Keeping Toronto on track
Dwaine Nichol’s career path was determined early in life by the death of his father. Working in human resources at a firm in Ottawa, his dad was shot and killed one morning in a workplace violence incident when Nichol was just six years old.
By Jennifer Brown
“He went in to work one morning and a person called his name and when
he responded the man shot him point blank. That’s what shaped things
for me early on,” says Nichol, the Manager of Security and Life Safety
at the City of Toronto.
Later, Nichol says he lived in what he calls “a bad domestic violence
situation,” which further influenced his career path — one in which he
would dedicate himself to being proactive in the protection of people.
“It really made me want to do as much as I could to help others and it
made me understand that kind of situation better and how difficult it
can be to move on from it,” says Nichol.
When he graduated from high school Nichol was considering law and
security or criminology and opted for the loss prevention management
program at Sir Sanford Fleming, an Ontario college, because it touched
on all areas of the security field. He was the top student in the class
and realized he had found his calling.
He worked for a time at the Parliament buildings and National Library
in Ottawa the summer before graduation and officially started his
career in 1992 in the old municipality of Metropolitan Toronto as a
security officer. He then moved to senior security officer and was
supervisor of security for the metro government. At the time of
amalgamation (which brought together seven municipalities to create a
single city of 2.4 million people), one of the earlier jobs posted was
for Manager of Security and Life Safety. He was the successful
applicant then and has been doing the job ever since.
At just 37 years of age, he says he has endured more than his share of
ageism. Many expect the person in charge of security and safety for
Canada’s largest municipality — 45,000 employees and 1,500 facilities —
might be a little older.
“I sometimes do get age discrimination because if they’re talking to me
for the first time or they’ve only talked to me on the phone, often
they’re expecting my boss to come in any minute,” says Nichol, who is
married with two children, ages 12 and six.
Bringing the city up to standard
His operating budget for security is $11 million with a capital budget
that comes from various divisions amounting to about $7 million.
It may sound like a lot until you consider what he has to do with that money.
“When you make the connection to the number of properties, it’s not a
lot of money. Security systems upgrades are a relatively new component
in a base building envelope,” he says, noting that at the time of
amalgamation, the idea that security systems needed to be refreshed on
a regular schedule was a foreign concept.
“Prior to amalgamation, security was never touched. When amalgamation
happened we created the corporate security unit. The majority of
properties didn’t have any security and those that did were haphazard
at best — it was basically a property manager calling a contractor and
saying ”˜Can you install systems?’”
He remembers getting called to a facility early after amalgamation
where staff was having serious problems with people coming in and out
of the property who shouldn’t be, and they couldn’t understand why they
weren’t being detected on the system. “When I went and looked at the
property I found they had called the security company to do an
installation and the company had put Velcro on all the door contacts to
the frame and to the wall. Every person except the property manger knew
you just took the Velcro off one and stuck it to the other and came and
went all you want through the back door and at the end of the day put
it back. There wasn’t a standard or security expertise.”
While guiding Toronto through the rough waters of amalgamation was a
major task — in some cases dealing with buildings that had virtually no
security in place at all — Nichol’s most recent achievements have been
even bigger in scale and include co-ordinating the city’s surveillance
policy which brought 1,000-plus cameras used in the city under the
Corporate Security Unit. The policy provides strict policies on CCTV
that comply with best practices from the Information and Privacy
Commissioner of Ontario and involves camera risk assessment procedures
and a requirement for union notification.
Nichol says he actually says no to requests for cameras more often than he says yes.
“If someone comes to me and says, ”˜I want a camera to do this’ and I
have to sign off on that as part of city-wide policy, I ask if it can
be done in any other reasonable manner. In some cases, it can be
addressed with access control or duress system or static staffing. A
camera may not be the most appropriate measure when you consider
privacy legislation and what they’re asking the camera to do.”
He has to go to council every time he wants to erect a camera in a high-profile location.
“There are a lot of checks and balances in place. We have great privacy legislation in place,” he says.
To that end, every camera system has a threat assessment done and has to be installed based on verifiable incidents.
He has turned down requests for cameras in many situations, such as one
that asked for a system in a weight room at a recreation centre. Or for
employee monitoring. “That’s what supervision is for,” he says.
Project Union Station
Right now, Nichol is focused on executing a plan to put anti-terrorism
systems in place at Toronto’s Union Station. About $12 million has been
secured from the federal government for the upgrade of systems at Union
Station. More people pass through Union Station in one day than go
through Toronto’s Pearson International Airport. However, the same
exterior and regulatory controls in place at Pearson are not in place
at Union Station; security is more pro-active following threat
assessments, and aims to mitigate threats before they happen and have
emergency plans in case they do.
“Union Station is a safe facility right now. The goal of the upgrade is for anti-terrorism measures only,” says Nichol.
Included in the project is a barriers program, window glazing, enhanced
video surveillance, alarm systems and access control, training for
employees, an awareness program for the general public and enhanced
emergency broadcast capabilities.
Of that funding, 75 per cent is coming from Transport Canada — a big
deal when it means City of Toronto taxpayers will not be on the hook
for it all.
In developing the proposal, he had to get consensus from Transport
Canada, the province, VIA Rail, GO Transit and the Toronto Transit
Nichol is in fact working against the clock right now. He must spend
the money between now and March 2009 — a tight timeline for any
security integration project.
“Now the funding has been obtained, it is time to do the work — it’s a
date that can’t move,” says Nichol. “It’s a short timeline to get it
The Union Station project comes with challenges, such as dealing with
it’s status as a heritage building, asbestos mitigation, and the fact
that the facility is always open to public use.
Whenever he’s doing a project like this, Nichol can’t forget that it is
being done for the good of the public and with public funds.
“I think it is important when dealing with municipal government that
you realize you’re a caretaker of city property. I have to take care of
that better than if it was my own money because it’s taxpayer’s money —
a project could represent somebody’s property tax bill for a year.”
Nichol’s team numbers 150 and there is low turnover in the security
management side of the house. “They’ve stuck with me for a long time
and it’s much like a family,” he says.
He is a strong believer in staff development and an advocate of
certification. He says it’s imperative that the security staff
continually upgrade their education, which can include taking seminars,
product launches, or walking the floor at CANASA or ASIS and speaking
“Vendors are a critical component in security in terms of what is
happening now and where the future is taking us so we understand it.
You have to ask them those tough questions, ”˜Why did you make this?
What is this going to do for me?”
Through the yearly staff performance program, Nichol has also made it a requirement that staff earn security certifications.
“Certification is very important for a number of reasons — it’s a
validation of what you’re doing — of the recommendations you’ve made,”
he says. “One of the things I learned early on about senior staff and
politicians at the beginning of amalgamation was that when we made a
security recommendation they would ask, ”˜What do the police think?’ We
made sure police were involved from the get-go. In most of the
occasions we brought the police in and said, ”˜Do you agree with this?’
And they said, ”˜Yes, of course.’ It’s got to the point now where we
don’t need that anymore.”
Seven of Nichol’s staff have earned their CPP, four have their PSP, two
have earned their CSPM and 20 have earned their CPO or higher and all
14 Control Centre Operators have earned the CSO or CSOI.
“The biggest thing we face in the security industry is that things
change so quickly and it’s very hard to become a specialist in all
fields now. You become a generalist that knows a lot about the
different areas and then hire someone else for all the specialized
areas,” he says.
Given the experience Nichol had in childhood, he is also an advocate of
providing training to city staff on areas such as workplace violence,
domestic violence, and crisis intervention and conflict resolution.
Working with IT
Nichol also recognizes the important role IT staff play in
maintaining electronic security systems that now reside on the network.
He budgets for two IT people to be part of his staff, an important
resource when you consider the security department at the city has 16
servers dedicated to their systems.
“Just the support those need to keep the patches updated and maintained
is a big requirement. As equipment gets more complicated — look at a
DVR now — you may be operating with an existing Windows systems as well
and all those patches, especially when you’re sending video over a
network you don’t want to risk infecting other parts of the network.”
Nichol says IT became part of the corporate security group when
security started to run applications over the network, which started
right at amalgamation. “They would get called in the middle of the
night about whether there was a network outage. It forced them to
upgrade routers because things were going down in the middle of the
night. It’s mutually beneficial — we need upgraded infrastructure for
our systems and they need it for other systems.”
At the same time, Nichol says his security team are doing everything
they can to find technologies to reduce bandwidth and make sure the
network stays up.
On the agenda
Projects looming on the horizon for Nichol include a work plan for
a new access card system, the City’s Central Control Station is getting
a ULC licence and is in the three-month testing stage. It’s in a
sophisticated building that will receive the camera feeds from all
video systems in the city that have network availability.
His department will also soon be taking on all fire monitoring systems
— a big task but also a very cost-effective measure for the city.
“We have the staff in place to monitor those systems as opposed to
paying external agencies to do it, which is what we did with security
For someone who has spent a decade in one job, Nichol shows no signs of wanderlust.
“My long term goal is to do the best while I’m here. I want to be happy
but I want to be making a difference and the day I stop making a
difference is the day I know it’s time to move somewhere else. It’s
impossible to get bored in this job.”