Security alert gave public no ‘actionable’ information on GTA shooting rampage, critics say

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A killer was on the loose and two people were dead, including a Toronto police officer and a beloved auto repair shop owner in Milton, Ontario. Such was the situation on Monday afternoon when an emergency public alert was issued stating that Peel Police were investigating an active shooter in the area.

The only other information that appeared on cellphone screens in the Greater Toronto Area was that the suspect was armed and dangerous and was traveling in a stolen vehicle. There was no word on the make and model of this vehicle and no suspicious description.

While the alert included a link to more information, the on-screen message simply urged the public to monitor local media.

These alerts are often ignored because they don’t immediately provide vital information that would give the public a role in helping investigators, says Terry Flynn, a professor of communications management at McMaster University in Hamilton who has studied the national security system. public alert from Canada.

“The incident ended in Hamilton. I have a young student who lives in that area. She didn’t know anything about it,” Flynn said.

The active shooter alert also came at 4:23 p.m., more than two hours after Const. Andrew Hong was shot and killed at a Tim Hortons in Mississauga. Meanwhile, Peel Regional Police did not say when they decided to issue the alert on Monday or who within their ranks ultimately makes that decision.

Minutes after the alert was issued, Halton Regional Police said in a tweet that they had arrested the shooter. The public would later learn that the suspect was deceased and there was no longer a public threat.

Monday’s alert was expected to include more information, expert says

Flynn says emergency alerts can play a crucial role in notifying people of an active emergency, but are only effective when they give the public an idea of ​​how to respond.

“My only thought about this specific incident is that it didn’t give us actionable statements,” Flynn said.

A screenshot of an active shooter alert posted on Monday. (John Rieti/CBC)

“A stolen car – how can I tell it apart from all the other cars on the road?”

Flynn adds that most of his students saw the alert, but ignored it and didn’t follow the local news.

Canada’s Alert Ready system was launched in 2015. In Ontario, alerts are administered by the Ontario Provincial Police.

Most alerts are issued to warn the public of natural disasters. According to Alert Ready, 158 of the 169 alerts issued in Ontario this year were for tornadoes.

They are rarely used for civilian emergencies such as an active shooter. Regional police services must submit a request and the OPP must comply with this request and issue the alert in the affected region.

Jacob Westfall, chief technology officer at Public Emergency Alerting Services Inc., says that can sometimes slow things down.

“It can definitely take a while, this whole process,” Westfall said.

Public alerting system varies by province

Westfall says some police forces in other provinces have direct access to platforms that send emergency alerts.

“Other parts of the country, certainly on the west side, have a little more experience with public warning systems than other parts,” he said.

Recently, alerts were used by the RCMP to aid their search for Myles and Damien Sanderson, the brothers who killed 10 people during a stabbing rampage in Saskatchewan earlier this month.

In this case, the police included information about the suspects’ vehicle.

The alerts were used by the RCMP to aid their search for Myles and Damian Sanderson, the brothers who killed 10 people during a stabbing rampage in Saskatchewan earlier this month. (CBC/Twitter alerts)

However, critics have had a lot to say about the role of alerts – or lack thereof – in the Nova Scotia massacre.

At the time of the shooting that killed 22 people on April 18 and 19, 2020, all police forces in Nova Scotia were required to send an alert request and accompanying text to the provincial emergency management office.

Documents released by the public inquiry into the shootings show that an active shooter situation did not meet the criteria for sending an emergency alert two years ago.

Additionally, the RCMP had denied the ability to directly issue emergency alerts on several occasions in the years leading up to the tragedy.

Westfall says this is the first time Peel Police have issued an active shooter alert. He adds that there have been a few active shooter alerts in Ontario over the past year, mostly in the North.

“We certainly haven’t seen a lot of active shooter alerts in Ontario,” he told CBC Toronto.

“It’s pretty new that the OPP has started making this available to police officers and police services across Ontario.”

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