Canadian Security Magazine

OACUSA event offers emergency management advice

Neil Sutton   

News Campus oacusa suzanne bernier toronto police service

The Ontario Association of College and University Security Administrators (OACUSA) held its annual spring conference in Toronto this week with presentations from emergency management experts, first responders, college and university security professionals and more.

Highlights from Day 2 of the three-day conference included:

A presentation from Toronto Police Service Superintendent Bill Neadles, who reinforced that police will do whatever they can to aid post-secondary institutions that may require first responder support.

While police, like many services, are facing a crunch in terms of funding and resources, “We know that we will respond in one way, shape of form… If we haven’t got it, we’ll call it in and find it,” said Neadles.

Neadles urged for greater co-operation between private sector institutions and police services. “It’s all a joint effort. If we’re not all on the same page, it is going to be a challenge.”


Neadles was joined on stage by other members of TPS, who dispensed advice about how to work more effectively with police.

Among the major points raised:

  • Be descriptive and precise when describing the nature of an emergency. If a package is deemed suspicious, articulate why, provide detailed descriptive information, then let police handle the emergency from there, since they are best equipped to do so.
  • Provide police with an emergency kit on scene containing necessary master keys (preferably on lanyards so they can be carried hands-free).
  • Provide a list of five people (at a minimum) who may be contacted by police 24/7 in the event of an emergency. Each person should be able to make critical decisions and communicate all necessary information to police.
  • Share blueprints ahead of time and ensure police know exactly where they need to go when they arrive on scene.

The TPS presentation was followed by crisis consultant Suzanne Bernier, who offered advice and wisdom on the role on social media — both as means to effectively communicate the nature of an emergency and as a public relations tool.

Social media is particularly effective due to its expediency, said Bernier. Communicators can reach a large number of people in minutes, helping to provide accurate, relevant information that can be easily shared.

Bernier also urged attendees to respect the power of social media. In other words, don’t Tweet (or even text or email) information that you don’t want to become public. As much as social media can be a tool for communicating a crisis, it can also be effective at managing one — or dealing with its fallout.

Companies or organizations that are responsible for creating a crisis situation or find themselves inadvertently party to one should use social media to communicate, said Bernier. A crisis situation will be Tweeted or posted on a social medium by onlookers and bystanders within minutes. By Tweeting early, an organization can help deflect criticism (offering an apology or admitting culpability) as well as shape the message that is becoming part of public discourse.

Other takeaways from Bernier’s presentation included:

  • Have a social communications plan and a trained team that understands social media and can use it effectively
  • Be the first to report your bad news (you want to be the one to carry the message)
  • Be honest, open and truthful
  • Express empathy early
  • Offer help and support in the event of a crisis (provide space or resources if possible)
  • Recognize the role of first responders (“look for the heroes”) and take heart that there will always be people willing to help out in an emergency

 “The bottom line is we’re just people talking to other people and trying to help them,” said Bernier.

OCAD’s conference concluded on Thursday.

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