EMO minister willing to consider direct access for police to issue emergency alerts

·3 min read

The minister responsible for the Emergency Management Office in Nova Scotia says he's willing to discuss granting police direct access to issue public alerts.

However, Chuck Porter cautioned Thursday that granting police that ability, as is the case in neighbouring New Brunswick, does not guarantee speedier action in notifying the public about an unfolding situation.

"They [police] know by the minute the situation and what is going on," Porter told reporters following a cabinet meeting.

"They know when it's best to issue the alert and what needs to be said, more importantly, in the alert and information that they want out."

Porter made the comments to reporters a day after the Nova Scotia RCMP waited several hours before requesting an emergency alert about an armed and dangerous man wanted in connection with a shooting in Riverview, N.B.

Robert Short/CBC
Robert Short/CBC

An alert was issued at least two hours after the suspect's car was discovered abandoned in downtown Amherst. Not long after that, another alert was issued saying the suspect had been arrested.

RCMP acted appropriately: chief superintendent

Chris Leather, the chief superintendent of the Nova Scotia RCMP, said the system worked as it should and it would have been "reckless" to issue an alert sooner.

"It is clear there is political and public desire for police to issue emergency alerts," Leather said in the statement. "This desire manifests as demand without understanding of public safety risk or the incident.

"This is reflected in demands for alerts to be issued sooner and even for incidents where the alert may result in greater harm to the public or police."

Justice minister calls for change

On Wednesday, Justice Minister Mark Furey said he wants the time required to send an alert shortened.

In Nova Scotia, the agency in charge of a given situation must decide that an alert needs to be issued and then send the request and message text to EMO. Officials with the government agency issued the alert on Wednesday seven minutes after they received the request from RCMP.

It's not the first time the RCMP's communication with the public has been brought into question.

During the mass shooting in and around Portapique, N.S., last spring, police waited hours before issuing an emergency alert to the public about a suspect on the loose, choosing instead to first communicate over Twitter.

Lessons should be learned

Cumberland North MLA Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin, whose district includes Amherst, said the system as it exists is not good enough.

"I think the message was pretty clear after what happened in Portapique that people expect our province to do better," she said in an interview. "We would have expected lessons to have been learned from that incident."

Smith-McCrossin said the delay in issuing the alert Wednesday was "a clear failure" to protect people in the Amherst area.

"I've had people contacting me this morning who are upset because they came into downtown Amherst for appointments not knowing there was an armed gunman's car in our downtown," she said.

She said giving the police direct access to the alert system is something that should be examined. It's up to the minister responsible, she said, "to fix a problem when it presents itself, like after April."

Lack of understanding of public safety risks

Leather said the alert was issued Wednesday only after police were confident it would not impede the arrest of the suspect or jeopardize anyone's safety.

The information contained in the emergency alert was basically the same as information police previously tweeted.

"No police officer or agency can know everything about an evolving situation immediately, and to imply anything to the contrary is reckless," he said.

"It is our responsibility, our duty, and our commitment to the public to investigate, gather facts, determine risk, and act to protect people."

MORE TOP STORIES