October 22, 2014 will live in the minds of Canadians for a long time. On that day, Corporal Nathan Cirillo tragically lost his life. The perpetrator of this heinous murder then attacked the halls of our Parliament building and was eventually shot and killed. These events highlight the dangers that terrorism and lone actors can pose, and they have raised a number of questions about the security arrangements on Parliament Hill.

On Wednesday, June 3, 2015, the Independent Investigation by the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Into the RCMP Security Posture on Parliament Hill was released, alongside a number of other reports on the events of October 22. There were quite a few recommendations within these reports, some of which were redacted for security reasons. Two key recommendations for an effective security response that were identified have cropped up time and again in The Conference Board of Canada’s security and emergency management work:

  1. Communications Interoperability

The issue of communications interoperability in Canada has been discussed for a number of years—in particular, how they pertain to first responders. This is a fundamental requirement for organizations to be able to work together, especially in a crisis or emergency situation. The lack of effective communications interoperability has been cited numerous times as a key reason behind poor emergency and security responses across the globe.

The RCMP, House of Commons Security Service, and Senate Protective Services all use different communication systems, managed by three distinct communication centres. Shockingly, the three main security forces in and around Parliament Hill did not have effective interoperable communications in place. This created unnecessary delays and fuelled confusion when building situational awareness of the unfolding emergency on October 22.

The House of Commons Incident Response Summary states that the Senate and House Protective Services have now combined their radio communications, but challenges remain with regard to communications interoperability with the RCMP. We should remember that merely having the capacity to communicate across agencies is not enough—you also need pre-existing relationships across organizations to make this work effectively when it matters.

  1. Strong Partnerships

The Ontario Provincial Police’s report highlighted the fact that the RCMP and the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) had an excellent working relationship that stood the test of the crisis on October 22. Both the RCMP and OPS have a history of joint exercises and training, allowing them to become familiar with each other’s operational procedures and build informal relationships. The OPP report points out, however, that this strong relationship was not present between the RCMP and the House of Commons Security Service and Senate Protective Services.

The use of training and exercises to build strong working relationships that can withstand a crisis was highlighted as a key reason behind the success of the Boston Marathon Bombing response, where multiple responding agencies worked together. It should never be assumed that just because organizations share a similar background, such as policing or security, they will immediately and effectively collaborate in a crisis. The events surrounding the response to the Elliot Lake Mall collapse demonstrated this.

Therefore, building strong partnerships beforehand remains absolutely crucial, especially in a shared security environment, such as Parliament Hill.

While there are a lot of recommendations in the recently published reviews and reports surrounding the events of October 22 on Parliament Hill, these are two linked issues that particularly stand out. Being able to effectively communicate across responding agencies and having the strong, trusted relationships in place that make it easy to work together are fundamental requirements for an effective emergency response.

This post originally appeared on The Conference Board of Canada’s website.

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