by Tom Rataj
Many countries, including Canada, suffered from calamitous weather-events and other disasters over the past year that disrupted the “normal” course of business and resulted in large numbers of casualties.
Calgary suffered through worse-than 100-year floods last June. Large sections of the Greater Toronto Area were decimated by a massive ice-rain storm shortly before Christmas which caused widespread power outages. Large parts of Canada endured an unusually cold winter with record snowfalls and large storms.
If that wasn’t bad enough, Québec suffered through two disasters. A runaway train crashed and exploded, destroying Lac Megantic’s downtown core, then 32 seniors perished in a tragic fire at a seniors residence in L’Isle Verte.
Many or our neighbours around the world suffered through civil wars (Syria, Iraq and others) and at times riotous public demonstrations (Bangkok, Thailand and Ukraine) and various other types of major departures from “normal,” whatever that might be locally.
As the primary emergency service, law enforcement often leads the response in confronting and dealing with these disasters and other incidents. Absolutely everyone relies on us to save them.
In order to reliably fulfill that role, we and the other emergency services, along with hospitals and critical government services, all need to be completely prepared and able to continue business as normal (more or less) regardless of what is happening around us.
There are many facets to ensuring this ‘business continuity.’ Some require substantial investment in technologies and equipment beforehand while relatively simple facility and infrastructure upgrades and business process design changes are needed for others.
Personnel training and the regular practice and testing of business continuity processes and equipment is important. In some cases disaster simulations and exercises need to be tested on a regular basis to make sure they actually work and that everyone knows what to do. Testing also help identify where plans don’t work or need improvement.
Although much of law enforcement is mobile, there still need to be adequate support and staging facilities. Taking into account all of the above threats to business continuity, facilities need to be able to continue mostly normal business operations during times of crisis.
The modern law enforcement operation is heavily dependent on various technologies; all need adequate facilities and electricity to continue functioning.
During the pre-Christmas GTA storm all Toronto Police facilities were able to continue functioning because they are equipped with diesel generators that run the entire building, including lights, heat, ventilation and fuel pumps.
One challenge was the reliability of the diesel fuel supply. On-hand fuel is typically good for about 36 to 48 hours but many facilities were on generator power for almost 60 hours and so needed at least one substantial fill.
Severe and widespread flooding also poses serious threats to business continuity so facilities need to be built on high ground, keeping the building safe from worse than 100-year flood levels and allowing personnel, equipment and supplies to continuously and reliably reach it.
Building design also needs to take into account fire, civil insurrection and other threats. Facilities in British Columbia and other seismically active areas should be built to withstand serious earthquakes.
In addition to proper siting, critical infrastructure, such as computer server rooms, telephone and radio equipment should never be located in a basement space where it could be damaged by any kind of water emergency.
Fire is probably the biggest threat so naturally all facilities should also be equipped with an up-to-date fire and smoke detection and suppression system (sprinklers) that can quickly stop a fire and prevent it from spreading. Building design, material and structure elements should be such that a fire cannot easily spread.
Not everyone likes us or what we do so appropriate physical security should be part of business continuity, allowing attempts to lay siege to be readily repelled and locked-out. While this kind of threat in Canada and most first-world countries is relatively low, it still exists. It is not uncommon in unstable regions of the world to see individuals or mobs attack and burn police facilities, especially during times of civil insurrection.
Severe weather appears to be increasing in many parts of the world so facility design needs to take this into account. All emergency services facilities should be designed and constructed to survive even the most severe weather. Storm-proof designs, materials and structures, including metal shutters for doors and windows, should be mandatory.
Despite very thorough planning and preparation, facilities might still need to be abandoned. Plans, procedures and equipment need to be in place to make this happen effectively and alternate temporary facilities need to be identified ahead of time.
Many sustainable (green) building designs and equipment can go a long way towards improving business continuity at the facility level. Low power and water consumption equipment, energy efficient structures, on-site power generation (photo-voltaic or/or wind power), solar hot water and other technologies can allow facilities to be self-sufficient and operate longer when the power goes out.
Since much of law enforcement and other emergency services operations are mobile, it’s important to have the appropriate equipment in place to keep things moving.
Despite cold weather and snow covered roads in much of Canada for upwards of five months of the year, not all services equip all fleet vehicles with winter tires. While many newer police vehicles now offer all-wheel drive, they won’t be appreciably more roadworthy if they are riding on rock-hard all-season tires.
Since most information is now computerized it needs to be strenuously protected, not just from physical threats like fire and water but also from cyber-threats.
In addition to access controls, all information should be backed-up in more than one physical location (especially away from the facility where it is usually created and stored) to prevent data loss. Smaller agencies may consider using a commercial cloud storage service company as part of their data-backup strategy.
While many things are critical to business continuity, communication is near the top of the list.
Most emergency services still use private voice-radio networks that they build and maintain. All need to be disaster-proofed with back-up systems and emergency power. Many also use mobile data. Some run on private data radio networks, although the tread seems to be moving towards using the major cellular companies. The reliability of these networks seems to be unknown at this point.
When disaster strikes, many personnel will already be at work and able to respond but there is a limit to how long they can work. Replacements and reinforcements will need to be brought in.
Depending on the situation, on site rest areas at facilities should be available for personnel that physically can’t make it home, allowing them to stay put and rest until their next shift.
Since many serious situations will be physically and emotionally stressful for the personnel involved (I’m thinking of Lac Megantic and L’Isle Verte), processes and services should be in place to treat them during and after the situations.
Business continuity is a complex multi-faceted issue that needs to be addressed on an ongoing basis so that all emergency services, particularly law enforcement, are able to continue mostly normal operations through all types of disasters.
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