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Fall 2015

Collaborating with the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate on Common Public Safety and Security Challenges

By Bruno Hardy-Chartrand

Defence Research and Development Canada’s Centre for Security Science (DRDC CSS) plays an important role in managing international public safety and security science and technology (S&T) arrangements. Of these, the 2004 Agreement between the Government of Canada and the Government of United States of America for Cooperation in Science and Technology for Critical Infrastructure Protection and Border Security (CIPABS) has paved the way for S&T collaboration between Canadian and United States (U.S.) partners in areas of mutual interest.

Under CIPABS, projects in areas such as Critical Infrastructure Protection, Chemical, Biological, Food Defence, First Responders, Radiological and Nuclear Detection and Defence, as well as Border Security technologies, have been implemented through partnerships between a number of federal departments and agencies.

“These projects bring together leading experts from S&T and public safety and security communities across the innovation system,” said Dr. Marc Fortin, Assistant Deputy Minister (S&T), Department of National Defence (DND), Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of DRDC, and Canadian lead for the CIPABS. “Leveraging these capabilities to work on common solutions to common problems is key to protecting both Canada and the U.S.”

In order to support the implementation of the CIPABS agreement, DRDC CSS and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate hold Bilateral Executive Meetings on a rotational basis. These meetings are an opportunity for key representatives from each organization to provide updates on achievements from the past year, discuss the upcoming year’s work plan and receive strategic guidance. Through the years, CIPABS has facilitated the development of many important capabilities, as well as invaluable knowledge.


For example, the implementation of the Canada-U.S. Enhanced Resiliency Experiment (CAUSE) series supports the principles of the 2011 U.S.-Canada Beyond the Border (BTB) Initiative and Action Plan and specifically addresses the work plan objectives of the Communications Interoperability Working Group, which is co-led by Public Safety Canada and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. These objectives are to develop and facilitate multi-jurisdictional and cross-border interoperability as a means of harmonizing bi-national emergency communications efforts.

A key component of these experiments has been the harmonization of the Canadian Multi-Agency Situational Awareness System (MASAS) with the U.S. Integrated Public Alert and Warning System to enable sharing of alerts, warnings and incident information between both countries for improved situational awareness and coordination. The most recent experiment, held in November 2015, focused on the use of digital volunteers to leverage social media content, as well as land mobile radio (LMR) and 700 megahertz (MHz) public safety broadband Long Term Evolution (LTE) technologies for emergency communications. Partners are already working on the fourth installment, CAUSE IV, which is scheduled for late April 2016.

Canadian efforts for the CAUSE III and upcoming CAUSE IV experiments are funded through Public Safety Canada.


The All Hazard Receipt Mobile Vehicle (Biosafety Level-2) is also a great example of innovation developed through CIPABS. DHS Science and Technology Directorate and DRDC collaborated on the design, construction, and pilot demonstration of a mobile facility for receiving, handling, and storing mixed threat materials. This all-hazards analytical capability was deployed in support of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games and continues to be available as training space and to support planned major event security. It is also an important tool in the Public Health Agency of Canada’s Ebola response arsenal. Canada has deployed a modern upgraded model of this lab to Sierra Leone in response to the Ebola outbreak crisis.

Another example, Jack Rabbit II, which was developed by DHS Science and Technology Directorate and Transport Canada, consists of multi-ton chemical release tests to enhance predictive modeling, improve guidance to emergency responders and planners, and inform industrial safety, security, risk reduction, and mitigation strategies. This effort was also a BTB Health Security Working Group deliverable of improving and sharing modeling capabilities, results, and data related to risks from a natural hazard or Chemical, Biological, Radiological-Nuclear and Explosives/Weapons of Mass Destruction incident.


Bilateral meetings between DRDC and DHS Science and Technology Directorate are important events where experts from each organization get together to explore common public safety and security challenges and, most importantly, discuss how they will work together to address them.

Last year’s meeting was hosted by DHS Science and Technology Directorate in Washington D.C. on 4 February, 2014. It focused on strategic level discussions regarding the business cycle and joint programming, while highlighting the need for a greater emphasis on issues such as cybersecurity, interoperability and transportation security. On 18 November of this year, DRDC welcomed to Ottawa U.S. partners led by Dr. Reginald Brothers, Under Secretary for DHS Science and Technology Directorate and U.S. Agreement Director.

“This year’s bilateral meeting underscored the depth of alignment between DHS Science and Technology Directorate and DRDC in our respective strategic priorities for Research and Development solutions. Our Canadian counterparts are key allies as we look at both cross-border concerns and the evolving threats that are, emerging beyond our borders,” said Dr. Brothers. “This year, we had robust discussions on topics including Countering Violent Extremism, Border Security Architecture, Countering Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, and risk and threat assessments. We also agreed on the importance of engaging collaboratively in new areas such as situational awareness in the Arctic Region.”

“The working sessions were very productive,” said Dr. Mark Williamson, Director General, DRDC CSS, and Canadian Agreement Supervisor. “The resulting insights, coupled with the guidance from the Executives, will provide valuable input in the development of an extensive work plan for 2016.”

“I would like to thank Dr. Fortin for his hospitality and I look forward to continuing to engage with DRDC and further strengthening our partnership,” adds Dr. Brothers.

CIPABS and a number of other international arrangements are administered by DRDC CSS on behalf of the Department of National Defence to enable collaborative S&T work in support of shared public safety and security priorities.

Bruno Hardy-Chartrand was International Program Advisor with DRDC CSS’s Policy and Planning section.

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The Challenges of Bilingualism when Using Social Media in Emergency Management

By Suzanne Waldman

What would an effective bilingual presence on social media for Canadian emergency management officials look like? For three years, DRDC CSS has been running a Targeted Investment project, under the Canadian Safety and Security Program (CSSP), to enhance Canadian capabilities for Social Media in Emergency Management (SMEM). The project’s final leg, a seminar on bilingualism in SMEM, was held on 25-26 August in Quebec City and included participants from government, non-governmental organizations, and communication professionals.

“It was great to have all levels of government there,” said Guylaine Maltais, an emergency communication consultant. “Everyone understood how relevant SMEM is and could take ideas back to their offices.”

As participants realized, SMEM in bilingual contexts raises extra challenges. For emergency management agencies, getting information out quickly means targeting their biggest language group on social media. Other groups can remain temporarily out of the loop until agencies are able to perform needed translations.

Another element of SMEM is deriving situational awareness about what’s happening in a community facing an emergency based on social media streams created by community members. Establishing the meaning and validity of informal and abbreviated social media messages is tricky, and a bilingual context makes it that much more difficult.

“Understanding tweets written in your own language can be hard--can you imagine trying to do that in another language?” said Sandra Dion, social media projects coordinator for the City of Québec.

For cities facing an emergency, a Canadian Virtual Operations Support Team (CanVOST) can help extract situational awareness from heavy flows of social media. CanVOST is a group of digital volunteers who can be engaged to filter and tag social media streams and turn them into vital information for emergency managers. Dion pointed to CanVOST’s new bilingual Facebook page and indicated CanVOST hopes to recruit new volunteers from all parts of Canada.

“But CanVOST only has two people who are bilingual, so if an emergency happened in Québec, we would have a hard time supporting it,” said Maltais, who is also a CanVOST member. “However, we can count on VISOV support, which is the International French VOST team,” she adds.

Because SMEM is a new area, it’s helpful for practitioners to be continuously discussing and comparing experiences and best practices, for instance on Twitter. “It’s important to get involved in SMEM before an emergency happens,” said Maltais, who indicated that while Anglophone Canada benefits from the international Twitter conversation around the hashtag #SMEM, Francophone Canada bears a large burden of sustaining its own dialogue around the French hashtag, #MSGU.

Despite these distinctive challenges, participants indicated the hurdles for SMEM are common across Canada.

“The biggest hurdle of all is the change in emergency management culture required for SMEM to thrive,” said Kate Kaminska, Research Analyst at DRDC CSS. “Until recently, emergency communication entailed having multiple levels of authority vet every message to ensure consistency and accuracy. But for agencies to have a constructive social media presence, they need to be prepared to communicate quickly and flexibly so they can answer questions and play a part in vital dialogues.”

“Cities are in transition when it comes to emergency communication,” said Dion, “In 20 years, we won’t need to have this conversation.”

For now, guidelines and tools, in both official languages, to assist with SMEM implementation across Canada, as well as opportunities to share SMEM experiences in communities of practice, would ensure each Canadian municipality didn’t have to reinvent the wheel.

As Dion said, “We have the same needs, whether we are francophones or anglophones.”

Dr. Suzanne Waldman is currently undertaking her second PhD in Communication Studies. She is working with DRDC CSS through the Federal Student Work Experience Program, doing research on the use of social media in emergency management.

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Consolidating National Fire Data to Save Lives and Dollars

By Suzanne Waldman

Fire safety practices and regulations vary widely across Canada, but at present there’s no way to compare their effects to see which work better or worse. Successful fire safety practices and regulations in one province are unlikely to come to light so they can be adopted by others. Meanwhile, it’s hard to weed out practices and regulations that are costly and ineffective.

For these reasons, Surrey Fire Chief and University Professor Len Garis is excited about helping to put together Canada’s first National Fire Information Database (NFID), a pilot project funded through the Canadian Safety and Security Program (CSSP). Garis is leading the project in partnership with the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs and the Council of Canadian Fire Marshals and Fire Commissioners, under the oversight of PS whose role is to manage the project’s deliverables and ensure that the research products are consistent in their quality and value-for-money for taxpayers.

“At this point it’s not possible to obtain a national picture of fires because the data is siloed in Provincial and Territorial databases,” Garis explained. “There’s no large-scale evidence base for making decisions about fire services and safety measures or for comparing the outcomes of fire-related policies across jurisdictions.”

That’s the gap CSSP and its partners intend to fill with the NFID, which will aggregate fire information from across the country. The database will even go beyond fires, as Statistics Canada--which is being brought in to process the fire data--has plans to link it up with national data about health, demographics, and crime. Garis anticipates these linkages will reveal crucial insights about how fires correlate with social and community factors.

Stéphanie Durand, Project Champion and Director General of the Policy and Outreach Directorate within the Emergency Management and Programs Branch at PS, is excited about the cutting edge nature of the research and the value of the data. “This type of cutting-edge, cross-sectoral analysis will undoubtedly lead to improvements in the public safety of Canadians, both in the knowledge it will provide to first responders and the evidence for our policy makers.”


In a striking example, a previous one-time aggregation of national fire data in 2005 by the National Research Council revealed buildings that had fires in Ontario were twice as likely to have working smoke alarms than in Alberta. Garis would like to see more insight into these types of discrepancies, which reveal how fire safety interventions should be honed and focused.

In a later stage of the project, CSSP will fund additional research aiming to address questions from Fire Chiefs, Marshals, and Commissioners. Questions the NFID data could help resolve include how successful regional building codes and inspection policies are at preventing fires, how building standards and materials impact fire mortality rates, and how fighting different types of fires affects firefighters’ health.

For Garis, data moves us beyond the “anecdotes” that often drive policies and practices and towards “evidence”. “We need to challenge values and beliefs about what is thought to be a fact,” said Garis. He pointed to how his research team from the University of the Fraser Valley used B.C.’s provincial fire data to test what Garis called fire “fallacies.”

Some discoveries Garis has already made in his research using the B.C. and other fire databases are:

  • Alternative fuel vehicles in apartment basements do not pose a greater fire hazard than regular fuel vehicles.
  • Apartment balcony fires are four times as likely as fires in suites to burn a building down because they go undetected by detection systems.
  • Stringent new requirements on basement apartments requiring fire separations between them and main residencies have not been shown to influence fire mortality.


The National Fire Information Database is part of a larger CSSP effort, spearheaded by Garis, which promotes the use of evidence-based knowledge in the First Responder community. Fire Marshal for the Province of Nova Scotia Harold Pothier observes “the Canadian Council of Fire Marshals and Fire Commissioners as well as the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs will benefit tremendously by being able to use up-to-date data identifying fire safety issues and trends that support the development of fire safety and fire prevention programs and regulations, not only within the respective provinces but on a national basis.”

Another successful effort to bring evidence-based knowledge to the First Responder community has been a manual called The Right Decision, recently written by Garis in collaboration with criminologists Paul Maxim and Darryl Plecas.

With support from the CSSP, the manual outlines accessible, step-by-step strategies Fire Chiefs can use to inform decisions-making, such as Environmental Scans and Cost Benefit Analyses. The Right Decision was later adapted for Police Chiefs and “went viral” according to Garis, with 75,000 copies distributed internationally. Garis, with his co-authors and continued CSSP support, are now adapting the manual for local government workers.

“It’s in the nature of the business that first responders are used to making intuitive decisions. That’s due to the speed of the decisions that generally need to be made,” said Garis. He advocates that when fire chiefs aren’t in the thick of action they “should pursue a more methodological approach.”

As Dave Matschke, former Fire Portfolio Manager at DRDC CSS as well as a Fire Service officer said, “With the NFID, we want to help first responder chiefs make decisions supported by scientific research and evidence, and to contribute to strategies and policies that truly respond to the needs of responders and communities across Canada.”

Enhancing the evidence base for decisions impacting safety and security is a central goal of CSSP overall. As Dr. Mark Williamson, Director General of DRDC CSS observed, “CSSP is an essential research and innovation coordination hub on the Canadian science and technology scene, and its key priority is to advance practical solutions that can be used to make Canadian communities safer.”

Dr. Suzanne Waldman is currently undertaking her second PhD in Communication Studies. She is working with DRDC CSS through the Federal Student Work Experience Program.

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