Canadian Security Magazine

Promoting a SAFE strategy

By Greg Law   

Features Securing the Nation

It is not new to hear that the City of Toronto has been identified as a possible target for criminal or terrorist activity. What is new is the recent change in the corporate response to these threats.

It started, like all good ideas do, in a cramped office over a cup of coffee simply thinking about ways to improve the link between emergency services and the private sector in response to potential emergencies. In the spring of 2006 this was the launching point for the development of the South Area Facilities and Entertainment Group or SAFE Group. The SAFE group,in its current form, is composed of the CN Tower, Fairmont Royal York Hotel, Air Canada Centre (ACC), Union Station, Metro Toronto Convention Centre (MTCC), Canada Lands Company, and the Rogers Centre.

The members of the SAFE group share a common connection in that they all provide entertainment and hospitality services to large numbers of people in these facilities or are the support companies for them. The purpose of the SAFE Group is to collectively share information,network, and test the corporate crisis response and management systems in conjunction with municipal response agencies.

Although fully endorsed by the city’s emergency services now, there were difficult times at first. “In the beginning, there were large obstacles to overcome when attempting to get buy in from the public sector,”says Javier Sanzsole of the CN Tower and chairman of the SAFE Group. “The concerns come down to resources,what’s your group about, and are you a flash in the pan? There are limited public resources to support endeavours like this but I think at the beginning, because I was persistent, had a plan, and a strong commitment from the community it almost forced the services, the OEM, Toronto Fire,Toronto Police Services,EMS,to really take a serious look at us. It has taken time to build up the level of mutual trust but the relationships between the public and private sectors have dramatically improved to both sides’ advantage.”

Things have come a long way in a short time. From the tumultuous early days to a key note welcome from the Manager of the Office of Emergency Management, and a visit from special guest Remedial Measures Specialist from Transport Canada at the most recent exercise, things are looking up for this grass roots organization. Although all of the members’ hard work is what keeps this organization steaming ahead, Sanzsole should be singled out for his continued efforts in the development of the SAFE Group. It takes quite a lot of courage to push for the development of an industry leading program amidst a cacophony of naysayers, but all of the hard work has paid off.

If the Rogers centre is evacuating 40 000 people, on a busy day summer day, and I’m evacuating up to 4,000 people, and the Convention Centre, and the condos and so on, where are you going to put all those people?
An unfortunate truth,in regards to emergency preparedness, is that all of the cost and work involved in it only pays dividends in the event of a catastrophe. That being said, the cost of inactivity and lack of due diligence discovered at the time of an emergency would be crippling — significantly more than the cost of preparedness. One only has to look to the recent SARS outbreak for supporting data. According to BMO Nesbitt Burns Research, from August 2005 the tourism industry lost more than $500 million and 28,000 jobs. In addition to this there were at least four major conventions that were cancelled and there was a sharp decline in restaurant visits. These two realities combined provided more than enough incentive for all of the member organizations to participate.

How have things changed and why is the Group so important now? “When I first started here in 1992 it was the CN Tower, the Rogers Centre (known as the SkyDome back then), and the South Convention Centre had just started. The rest of the area was, for the most part, a large empty field. The area in the last 10 years has exploded,” says Sanzole. “My point is that our environment has changed and so have the needs of our business, the expectations of our guests and even the legislation that governs the way we operate. All of this impacts our Business Continuity Plans. The SAFE Group is such a critical part of how we deal with an emergency now. If the Rogers centre is evacuating 40,000 people,on a busy day summer day, and I’m evacuating up to 4,000 people, and the Convention Centre,and the condos and so on, where are you going to put all those people? It’s important that we all strategize, that the communication’s all there, that we’re all prepared. The SAFE Group is that catalyst and we need to continue to develop new ways to improve communication amongst each other and with our emergency services partners. There is still work that needs to be done but at the end of the day we have all benefited from it and so the term collaboration comes to mind,and we’re really working towards that.”

On December 13, 2007, the Metro Toronto Convention Centre (MTCC) hosted exercise SAFE Guard 2007. The Office of Emergency Management, along with Toronto Emergency Medical Services (EMS), Toronto Fire Service (TFS) and Toronto Police Services (TPS), Toronto Shelter Support Housing and Administration, and Toronto Public Health, participated with the SAFE Group in a major tabletop exercise to test and practice the security and safety protocols of SAFE Group members. The scenario, which focused on a highly congested day in the entertainment district that was experiencing numerous major activities, was designed by inputs from the group and authored by Doug Charles from All Trans Security. There was excellent participation that day including some 135 active players from all members of the group. To add more pressure to the players, all facilities were operating artificially at maximum capacity.

At The Rogers Centre, the Blue Jays were playing an afternoon game hosting the New York Yankees to a sell out. The CN Tower was busy as usual, and since it is a clear day was at fullcapacity. The Metro Toronto Convention Centre(MTCC) North Building was hosting ”˜Canadian Idol 2007 Top 10’as well as the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA). The MTCC was also concurrently hosting the 2007 International Wireless Expo in the entire South Building. The show had approximately 8,000 exhibitors and attendees. The Intercontinental Hotel was expecting to be at 100 per cent occupancy over the weekend due to the Caribana Festival. The Royal York Hotel was full to capacity. U.S. Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama was in Toronto with a delegation of Democratic Party Representatives meeting Canadian business executives. The Air Canada Centre was hosting “Walking with Dinosaurs.” Approximately 9,000 people including families with young children,were attending the event of mechanical/robotic dinosaurs. American tourists were in abundance in spite of the rising Canadian dollar, many from New York in Toronto to attend the ball game and to enjoy the weekend. Even though this is a Toronto tourism dream day, not a normal day even prior to SARS, it is a logistical nightmare for companies that cover an area approximately the size of 30 football fields.

The premise of the group is fairly basic but its benefits are very real. “I think what the SAFE Group really did is allow us to build our relationship with our neighbours. It allowed us to share more formal plans, bring in outside resources and, because of our importance in the entertainment district and the downtown core, it really allowed us to develop this group and make it an example for other partnerships to evolve from,” says Mario Coutinho, vice-president,stadium operations and security for the Rogers Centre. “Talking to other cities, and other similar entities or venues, they lack that co-operation,that organization. I think we really are years ahead of other cities and it is a nice model for businesses throughout the city to follow.”

Greg Stasyna, Coordinator for the City of Toronto Office of Emergency Management sums up the realities facing corporations in today’s world. “Corporations in Canada must realize today that the emergency responders in both primary and supplementary response agencies are there to support them in any emergency situation,however in a large scale emergency resources from the city and other levels of government will be strained. As a result, appropriate resources may not be immediately available, thus the theme that the city supports is a 72-hour self-preparedness model where corporations and private citizens should be ready to be prepared to survive and carry out their own emergency operations — not only focusing on just the response, but preparing before a major event, and the recovery process after the event. One organization cannot work on its own.”

It is this sharing of resources and interoperability that members of the SAFE Group strive for. Invaluable assistance, from training to logistics, was provided by the City of Toronto Office of Emergency Management(OEM) who worked together with the group,assisting them in conducting their crisis/disaster training exercise.

“In the future I would like to see the SAFE Group grow in membership, set the way for other organizations like this and to continue to work with our emergency services partners. The exercise component if very important. Many organizations have a BCP and it collects dust until the day comes, and you know what it’s too late then. What we do is put our crisis plans to the test, see what works, what doesn’t and make the changes we need to,” says Sanzsole.

For those organizations that are looking to create a similar program “one of the main things is you have to be is diligent, you have to be committed,” he says. “There are times where you’ll feel that in trying to start a group like this that you are the only one that sees the big picture. But as long as you continue to be motivated,be focused and have a game plan — that being the communication amongst your peers, the collaboration between private and public sector— it will all come together. What helped me is making the right connections with individuals. There are people out there in the emergency services that care, who see the big picture and help you along the way.”

Although most organizations train and test in response to their own standard operating guidelines, here we have a group of companies not only testing their response to an event, but also their interoperability with their neighbour companies who, although they share a common bond of tourism and entertainment, all run by their own building specific emergency plans and procedures. When you consider the delicate nature of some of the information, this is a truly courageous thing involving a large amount of trust as all members have to expose themselves and their weaknesses.

The process of developing the annual exercise reflects the enormity of the challenge. Very soon,after the completion of last year’s exercise, and following a short period of debrief, the group continues monthly meetings to not only discuss issues affecting their area but to begin planning for the next year’s scenario. This year’s exercise will see a large tornado come through the area,damaging all facilities. For the first time they will be extending the length of the drill to allow those participating in the EOC’s (Emergency Operation Centres) to enact their business resumption portion of their emergency plan. Following this will be a hot wash debrief so that all members can report their findings while they are fresh in the mind. A formal debrief and report is created later which individual organizations can use to correct their Business Continuity Plans to reflect any issues that arose.

Greg Law has his own consulting company GD Law Consulting which deals with corporate emergency management and training. He also works for the City of Toronto Fire Department and has assisted the SAFE Group in developing it’s table top training scenarios. To learn more about the SAFE Group you can contact Javier Sanzsole at

Print this page


Stories continue below