Nova Scotia RCMP say centralized command post ‘can only enhance our response’

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The Mass Casualty Commission is still on break, but it recently heard about a new command room the RCMP has established -- with a commitment to enhance communications. Chief superintendent Darren Campbell said while the work was planned before April 2020, it was streamlined as a result of what happened, and some gaps in communications. Callum Smith reports – Aug 3, 2022

The Nova Scotia RCMP says a centralized command post that was established last year will help improve communication during critical police incidents.

The ‘Critical Incident Operations Room’ wasn’t designed in response to the April 2020 killings in Colchester Co., but Chief Supt. Darren Campbell — who is now based in New Brunswick — told the Mass Casualty Commission the project was a key focus.

“Identifying the issues in terms of challenges with communication or missed opportunities due to challenges in communication through this incident was a driving factor behind trying to streamline and increase our capabilities in terms of communication during critical incident operations by creating this room,” Campbell said July 25.

On Wednesday, the RCMP gave Global News a tour of the room, which is based at its Dartmouth headquarters after the dispatch centre also moved from Truro in 2020.

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The room has a variety of mapping programs, including Pictometry, a detailed map with satellite imagery that is more clear and detailed than Google Earth.

Read more: Mapping program RCMP struggled to open could have helped contain N.S. mass killer

It can be used for critical incidents including shootings, hostage situations and calls for armed or barricaded people. Or, the critical incident commander (CIC) can choose to establish a mobile command post at the scene.

But two key benefits are that the centralized location can be staffed and established much quicker than a mobile command post, and key RCMP officials are together and within walking distance to the Operation Communications Center (OCC) and can communicate with dispatch and 911 call takers.

“It can only enhance our response,” says Glen Byrne, who is in charge of the force’s Operational Support and Communications Centre. “The flow of information is definitely better.”

“We’re still taking calls for the rest of the province,” he says. “So there could be multiple other major incidents that we’re dealing with up there. So, by activating this room, it separates it from the normal operations.”

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Insp. Matco Sirotic, who is one of the RCMP’s CICs, says the room “alleviates a lot of pressure on front-line members that are sometimes dealing with chaos.”

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“They’re dealing with a lot of pressure and to know that we are now here and we can say, ‘We’re here, we’re going to help, we’re going to take remote control of this scene,’ it feels good to them,” he explains. “And then I’m in a better position here, for argument’s sake, within 40 minutes, then sometimes three hours to be able to visualize.”

He says challenges when establishing a mobile command post can include the commute times for the CIC and ensuring the location is in a secure and safe area.

“A big perk of this room is … (the) availability to monitor everything, to see where the resources are,” Sirotic says.

Sirotic says a CIC can see where officers are and where perimeters are in relation to important areas or locations of suspects.

“I can even from here comment that I see a weakness point,” he says.

Read more: Communication snafus plagued RCMP’s response to Nova Scotia mass shooting: documents

The personnel that would be in the room include the CIC, a negotiator, Emergency Response Team leader, a scribe, and someone from both the OCC and the force’s media team.

Michael Scott, a lawyer representing the majority of victims’ families, says there appears to be “unnecessary bureaucracy” when it comes to RCMP communication.

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“What we thought was encouraging with the changes that have been made is the somewhat logical change to putting those people in the same room together so that when critical information does come in, it’s being elevated and not missed in the ways that we saw it happen in April 2020.”

“Certainly, it’s clear that issues within the OCC and how information was being communicated between different first responders was an issue,” he says.

“It would’ve been obviously preferable if it didn’t take something like April 2020 to prompt that, but it seems like a step in the right direction.”

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