After 2 city hall lockdowns in less than a month, councillor calling for annual drills

After two lock-downs at Toronto’s city hall in less than a month, a councillor is now calling for more emergency training and resources — including annual lockdown drills.

Beaches-East York Coun. Brad Bradford has put forward a member motion, which will be heard at council on Wednesday, asking the city’s security department to provide more training for all staff.

On July 3, he was among those at city hall during the most recent lockdown — and told CBC Toronto once the intercom announcement was made, those gathered in a committee room for a planning and housing meeting weren’t initially sure it was a “real-life scenario.”

Even as attendees realized the lockdown wasn’t a test run, what was supposed to happen next wasn’t “exactly clear,” Bradford said.

“You could feel the anxiety and tension in the room,” he added. “You could see and feel that nervousness.”

That lockdown was tied to a nearby gun call, which didn’t include any reports of injuries.

Less than a month earlier, on June 17, city hall was also placed in lockdown amid a shooting near Nathan Philips Square during the Raptors’ NBA Championship parade.

Four people were shot and injured, and the incident led to confusion and stampeding among the massive crowd of onlookers.

Three people were later arrested.

Motion recommends ‘conducting annual drills’

To ensure thousands of city employees know how to respond if a lock-down happens again, Bradford’s motion recommends “conducting annual drills to enhance emergency preparedness.”

While lockdown drills are increasingly common in North America, particularly among school boards in the wake of various deadly school shootings throughout the United States, there is debate over the merits.

In Montreal last year, for instance, two school boards took different approaches, with one holding drills annually. The other doesn’t require schools to prepare for “active shooter” situations amid concerns the drills can be traumatizing or confusing, particularly for young students.

Drills ‘never without cost or consequence,’ expert warns

Emergency preparedness drills are “never without cost or consequence,” cautioned Colleen Derkatch, a Ryerson University professor who has researched how people assess risk when it comes to our health.

It’s worth considering how broadly training should be applied, she added, because it can make people feel more at risk in their day-to-day lives.

“If you want to do drills, you need to think about who needs to be involved,” Derkatch continued. “Does it need to be everybody, or just leaders in situations?”

Go too broad, she warned, and organizations and governments can wind up feeling like a “fortress.”

Despite the concerns, Bradford’s new motion isn’t the first time city hall has looked at beefing up security; just last year, council voted to begin baggage screenings for anyone entering the building.

While it’s “alarming” that school boards and governments need to be more aware of the need for lock-downs, “it is the reality of the day,” Bradford said.

“And it’s better to be prepared than not,” he added.

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