A memorial is seen at the Wentworth Recreation Centre in Wentworth, N.S. on Friday, April 24, 2020. Twenty-two victims and the shooter died in the deadliest mass shooting in Canadian history. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Liam Hennessey)

Following Nova Scotia shootings, RCMP focuses on alert protocols

As Canadians attempt to come to terms with the deadliest mass shooting in the country’s history, the RCMP says it is examining ways to develop a national operational policy for using the country’s text-based national alert emergency system introduced in 2018–something it didn’t use last month when a gunman rampaged through rural communities in Nova Scotia, killing 22 persons.

The force is now facing questions about why it relied on social media instead of issuing an emergency alert that could have been sent to every phone in the province.

In fact, the RCMP says, there is nothing in its handbook regulations to suggest it should have used the system and there are currently no countrywide guidelines for when police should use the public warning system to broadcast information to cell phones and television screens.

Experts in law enforcement say utilizing the alert system is not necessarily an easy call because police must strike a balance between informing the public about a potential threat and avoiding unnecessary panic. 

“Make no mistake — none of us have ever experienced the kind of chaos that those officers, first responders and even the critical incident commander faced that night,” Terry Flynn, an associate professor of communications at McMaster University, told Adina Bresge of The Canadian Press.

“The critical thing for them is that now, they unfortunately have a mass shooting playbook.”

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil has said emergency officials were ready to issue an alert, but couldn’t act until the RCMP supplied information. 

RCMP Const. Heidi Stevenson, who was killed in the Nova Scotia shooting rampage, is shown with children in an undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-RCMP)

The Mounties say they were crafting a message when the gunman was fatally shot by police in Enfield, N.S., on April 19 after a 13-hour manhunt.

Nova Scotia RCMP Supt. Darren Campbell told reporters last week that the force is conducting a “full review” of the use of the emergency alert system in consultation with the province and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police.

In an email to The Canadian Press, National RCMP spokeswoman Robin Percival said the force is looking at creating a Canada-wide policy, but said public alert protocols are generally set out by provincial emergency management authorities.

Nova Scotia’s Emergency Management Office did not immediately respond to a CP request for details about its protocols.

 With files from The Canadian Press (Adina Bresge), RCI (Levon Sevunts)

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