There is ‘no national RCMP policy’ for when emergency alerts should be issued

Click to play video: 'Calls for inquiry into Nova Scotia mass shooting'
Calls for inquiry into Nova Scotia mass shooting
WATCH: As Nova Scotia continues to mourn the victims of Canada’s worst mass shooting, more voices are coming forward and calling for a public inquiry. Jesse Thomas reports. – Apr 27, 2020

The manhunt for Nova Scotia gunman Gabriel Wortman lasted nearly 13 hours, from police responding to the first 911 call to the shooter being killed in the parking lot of a gas station.

During this time the RCMP sent out more than a dozen tweets, advising the public to stay inside and providing information about Wortman’s appearance and whereabouts.

But no province-wide emergency alert was ever issued.

Now Global News has learned the RCMP has no national protocol for when an emergency alert should be used, even in cases involving an active shooter.

“There is currently no national RCMP policy on the use of the national Alert Ready system,” said RCMP national spokesperson Cpl. Caroline Duval.

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“The RCMP continually reviews, updates or creates new operational policies based on a number of internal and external factors or reviews.

“The RCMP is looking into developing a national operational policy as a result of the recent events in Nova Scotia.”

Thirteen-hour manhunt with no alert

In the aftermath of the shootings, politicians and residents, including friends and family members of some of the victims, said they believed police should have issued a province-wide emergency alert to warn people of the danger as soon as it was clear a murderer was on the loose and that he couldn’t be found.

Nova Scotia premier Stephen McNeil also said last week that emergency management staff were brought in specifically for the purpose of issuing an alert about the shooting, but that no request was ever made by the RCMP.

This was despite several attempts by provincial officials to contact the RCMP.

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The RCMP, meanwhile, said it used Twitter and not the emergency alert system because it is their “normal method” of communicating with the public and because it is a better way for sharing information about a quickly-evolving situation.

“We have relied on [Twitter] because of the instantaneous manner that we can communicate. We have thousands of followers in Nova Scotia and felt that it was a superior way to communicate this ongoing threat,” said RCMP Chief Supt. Chris Leather a day after the shootings.

Leather added Friday that the RCMP was in the process of crafting an emergency alert — in response to a request from the province — at the time Wortman was shot dead.

Emergency alerts should be used

Emergency preparedness experts, such as Jason Thistlethwaite and Dan Henstra from the University of Waterloo, say governments and police forces should use every tool available to them when warning the public about threats of danger, including active shooting situations.

Henstra, who said the Alert Ready system was designed specifically for “civil emergencies” like the mass shooting in Nova Scotia, believes police forces, such as the RCMP, should also have guidelines in place for when an emergency alert should be issued.

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“After seeing how the events in Nova Scotia played out, I think formal protocols for emergency alerts are important,” he said.

“A national RCMP policy could offer helpful guidance on when [police] divisions should issue public alerts and the channels that should be used.”
Click to play video: 'Nova Scotia shooting: Support for victims of mass shooting continues to pour in'
Nova Scotia shooting: Support for victims of mass shooting continues to pour in

Despite saying it should exist, Henstra isn’t surprised the RCMP has no national strategy for issuing emergency alerts.

The system is “regional by design” because of the different threats each province faces, he said. It’s also tough to impose policies that apply across the entire country, even for the RCMP, which has a clear chain of command.

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“It often takes an attention-focusing event like the Nova Scotia tragedy to push organizations to change their policies,” he said.

“They open a brief window of opportunity to better prepare for the next incident. But the window closes fast.”

Global News asked the RCMP to provide specific details of any provincial or local protocols in place that provide guidance on how the emergency alert system should be used. The RCMP did not provide a detailed response to these questions, nor did it say which, if any, jurisdiction has its own protocols.

The RCMP did, however, say that, in general, standard operating procedures for when to use the emergency alert system would be set up through the provincial and territorial emergency management officials.

Global News asked Nova Scotia’s Emergency Management Office if it has protocols in place for when the RCMP and other law enforcement agencies should issue an emergency alert. No specific details were provided.

On Tuesday, RCMP Supt. Darren Campbell added that in 30 years as a police officer, he has never been in a situation that required use of an emergency alert.

He also said the RCMP is working with provincial officials and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police on how the system could be used.

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“We’re certainly very aware of that issue, and we’re conducting a full review,” Campbell said.

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