Our National Security Investment
Jul 15, 2006

Over four and a half years have passed since 9/11, over two since the creation of Canada’s Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, over two from the Madrid train bombings, and nearly one since the London subway attacks. Spurred into action by these horrific events, over $9.5 billion was announced by the past government in our first National Security Policy, aimed at improving the overall security of Canadians.

Just prior to Canada’s recent federal ­election, then Minister of Transportation, Mr. Lapierre and Deputy Prime Minister, Mrs. Anne McLellan announced additional steps, including funding of $110 million, for an Immediate Action Plan (IAP) to enhance the security of Canada’s passenger rail and public ­transit systems. This proposed new investment may not have seemed a ­significant amount, but in fairness, it was a respectable start to protect this obviously very vulnerable element of our open and urban society.

Much consultation took place to determine what was called a “targeted, risk-management approach” to arrive at the five components of the announced “Action Plan”:

  • Creating a new passenger rail and public transit security contribution program called RideSecure, focused on commuter rail, subway and major transit systems.
  • Enhancing Transport Canada’s ability to provide security expertise and specialized technology assessments and to coordinate development and sharing of best practices with its partners in rail and public transit security.
  • Allowing domestic ferry security enhancements to be eligible for funding under Transport Canada’s Marine Security Contribution Program.
  • Conducting mass transit emergency preparedness exercises to be led by then Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada in collaboration with key jurisdictional stakeholders.
  • Creating a new a new Mass Transit Task Force on intelligence, policing and response.

What is not clear at this point, is where and if the money allocated to the IAP will be spent and, more pertinently, what position Ministers Day (Public Safety) and Cannon (Transport) and the new government are taking in this ­matter.

Then Minister McLellan stressed at the time, the challenges of intelligence-sharing and the need for a “unified whole that is focused on Canadian safety, security, and the government’s preparedness in times of emergency.” She also underlined the very real difficulties of intelligence sharing. This challenge exists not only at the federal inter-departmental level. The Minister said then that the job is incomplete until “everybody in … government has got the message that they don’t get to keep their intelligence to themselves... they must share it through integrated threat assessments that are sent out across the land. We still have some way to go there”.

This free flow of vital information is also lacking at the municipal leadership and first responder level. For example, much information (some say: “most information”) does not reach the very people who need and can actually do something with it. Recent security challenges such as dangerous cargo handling, apprehending dangerous criminals, reacting to dangerous weather patterns, energy black-outs, and the handling of potential pandemics offer many examples where information is not reaching those who can use it in time to increase security and decrease worry.

If an effective level of overall national security and emergency preparedness relying on timely information exchange is to be achieved, the Government must rid itself of its overly restrictive “need to know” criterion. It must be replaced, I submit, with an attitude that deems to inform the greatest number as quickly as possible without impeding success or causing panic: a “should inform all” ­criterion.

The normal tendency to focus on perfecting the information sharing “process” within departmental silos must be seriously curbed and a culture developed that supports and encourages a broader information exchange at the base between responders from a variety of contributors, partners and departments. Here true progress could be measured and the investment in security really could pay visible dividends in saved lives.

On 22 November 2005, in her report on Matters of Special Significance, the Auditor General of Canada specifically addressed this in the context of security, when she said: “I encourage parliamentarians and the government to pay more attention to the management and accountability of initiatives that cut across organizational boundaries. Current practices tend to reinforce a narrow silo approach, rather than a broader corporate view of government responsibilities.”

Moving away from the federal responsibilities, we note that response to 95% of emergencies, be they to terrorist, man-made or natural disasters, occurs at the first responder/municipal level. It is there that leadership, efficiency and compassion must be shown first and foremost, for any real “progress” to be perceived. Mayor Giuliani of New York was the leader whom all others supported on 9/11. Who will be “front and centre” in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver or Halifax when a crisis occurs?  How should he or she be supported to succeed?

Is it not reasonable to assume that it is at this level that the hardest work and greatest investment should first be undertaken? Federal assistance at that level includes such promising measures as the Joint Emergency Preparedness Program (JEPP), Heavy Urban Search and Rescue (HUSAR), and the Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) protection programs. However, even these are judged to be too burdened by tortoise-like bureaucracy, and approved grants are often deemed subject to dubious risk and cost analyses.

The private sector is also very much at the sharp end when it comes to critical infrastructure. Documenting what real “progress” has been made in securing the cooperation of, and reassuring, the various commercial sectors, such as energy or light rail, would serve as a meaningful measurement. How much more secure is our infrastructure since the past government expressed concern in its November 2004 Position Paper on a Critical Infra­structure Strategy? What is the view of the present government?

Security and emergency preparedness are complex issues but, if we continue to dedicate resources to bloating silos rather than helping at the sharp end, it will be years before one can honestly say: “we have made progress, Canadians are more secure” rather than repeating the tired mantra: “we have invested X dollars in this new process that (will/may/should) produce better results in Y (months/years) …details to follow…”

For progress to be real and visible, our people at the borders have to be given the tools to identify and arrest the next Ressam, no matter in what direction he or she is traveling; our municipalities need the resources to practice and feel confident that they can handle major natural disasters, man-made crises, terrorist acts and public health challenges (change to emergencies?); and our privately-owned critical infrastructure companies need to know that they are effectively and legally fulfilling their security obligations. That is the kind of action and confidence that will signal real progress.

Most major security and emergency practitioners recognize these realities and point out that training and exercises constitute the vital bond that provides the cohesion and effectiveness when an emergency occurs. As the former minister said: “Training and exercises [are] key to being prepared to deal with emergencies of any kind…That means your first responders, almost all of whom are at the local government level, have to be well trained and well equipped.” So let’s do it!

Many questions remain for Canadians and their new government. For instance:

  • On what, exactly, has the over $9 billion in federal money been spent?
  • How much security has it bought?
  • How do we measure and sustain any security improvements in which we have invested
  • How, for instance, does the need to “enhance Transport Canada leadership, expertise and coordination” in surface transport security at a cost of $19 million constitute a better security investment than a decision to add that amount or a major part of it to the $80 million that would be used to actually enhance passenger rail security measures based on risk assessments?
  • What is the status of the promised “Transportation Security Strategy”?
  • How do these fit into the Canada/ US/ Mexico agreement on “Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America” recently discussed at the highest leadership level?

Canadian taxpayers are contributing an extraordinarily large amount of money at all levels to the improvement of their security and emergency preparedness. They hope that governments and other agencies responsible for planning and executing whatever measures are put in place are indeed focusing on making “progress.” It would thus behoove governments at all levels to produce and provide regular “progress” reports to the public. After all, national security and emergency prepared­ness measures are being designed at our expense and for our benefit. Show us how!  

Clive Addy, Executive Editor
© FrontLine Security 2006