Politics

Too much talking, cellphone use, during federal 'lockdown' exercise, report says

The Oct. 22, 2014 shootings on Parliament Hill prompted a recent "lockdown" exercise at a federal office building. A report on the exercise says public servants talked too much, improperly used their cellphones and did not hide in the right places.

Flaws cited in office workers' behaviour during 'lockdown' security test at Ottawa office building

People under lockdown look out of an office building near Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Oct. 22, 2014, when an armed gunman stormed Centre Block. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

A "lockdown" exercise designed to test whether federal workers know what to do if a gunman ever stormed their Ottawa office building was marred by too much talking, too many ringing cellphones and too many hiding spots that were too visible.

"Employees at all levels were heard talking while they were hiding," says an internal report on the March 30, 2016, exercise.

"Remind employees to stay quiet to prevent the aggressor from knowing where they are hiding."

Real-life lockdown of Oct. 22, 2014

The fake "lockdown" was conducted this spring just a few blocks from Parliament Hill, where a real gunman had stormed the Centre Block and started shooting on Oct. 22, 2014. The gunman died in a shootout, after killing a soldier at the National War Memorial and injuring a House of Commons guard.

The C.D. Howe Building in downtown Ottawa, housing the offices of Industry Canada and others, was the scene of a 'lockdown' exercise on March 30, 2016. The exercise exposed problems with the behaviour of office workers. (CBC)

The 2014 incident triggered lockdowns of dozens of downtown office buildings for most of the day, and exposed some security problems.

The recent exercise, carried out on 11 floors of the C.D. Howe Building, was led by Industry Canada, but also involved staff from the House of Commons, the auditor general, the Canadian Space Agency, Shared Services Canada, and a tribunals support agency. Eleven other departments sent observers.

It was billed as the first-ever "lockdown" exercise involving ordinary office workers. Other such tests had previously involved only employees of security agencies, such as the RCMP.

An April 2016 final report on the "Pilot Lockdown Exercise" was obtained by CBC News under the Access to Information Act.

Plenty of notice

Local police, RCMP and the office workers themselves were given plenty of notice for the 2 p.m. ET exercise, and were told how to behave over the eight minutes that a faux gunman was supposedly roaming the halls looking for victims.

But the concept seemed to be poorly understood, or not taken seriously, by significant numbers of participants.

"Cellular telephones could be heard ringing in hiding areas," says the report. "Remind employees to participate fully in the exercise by turning off their electronic devices."

Hide under desks or other furniture if they offer more protection- Advice in Industry Canada report on a March 30, 2016, "lockdown" exercise

Observers also noted that the glow from cellphones could tip an "active shooter" to the presence of a hiding worker. "RCMP Protective Policing recommends that cellular telephones be turned off during an incident and this approach will be evaluated."

Office workers improperly used their cellphones during a March 30, 2016, security exercise in downtown Ottawa to test whether they were prepared for an 'active shooter.'

Glass walls and windows in some rooms also "provided minimal visual protection and left employees exposed," creating poor hiding places.

"Hide under desks or other furniture if they offer more protection," the report advised.

Some emergency officers had told office workers in advance exactly where to hide during the exercise — advice that was considered a security flaw in the event the shooter himself turned out to be a disgruntled office worker.

Called a 'success'

"Hiding areas are not to be pre-assigned, as they identify the location of the employees if it is an insider threat," says the report. "Rather, remind employees of the importance of considering a variety of possible hiding locations as opposed to a pre-planned location."

Last week, an Industry Canada spokeswoman called the exercise a "success" and said there were "no significant concerns."

Stefanie Power added that similar "lockdown" exercises were being planned for Industry Canada's regional offices. One internal document said fake "lockdowns" will become annual events.

Garry Clement, a former senior RCMP officer who now is a security consultant, said such exercises are useful only if everybody plays the game.

"Exercises of this nature are of tremendous value providing everyone follows the rules as if the scenario was real," said Clement, president and CEO Clement Advisory Group.

"Failure to carry out an exercise in this manner results in it being a fundamental failure since it is impossible to identify weaknesses in current practices."

The Oct. 22, 2014, shootings at the war memorial and on Parliament Hill have prompted a raft of security measures in Ottawa, including the creation of a fully armed Parliamentary Protective Service.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dean Beeby

Senior reporter, Parliamentary Bureau

Dean Beeby is a CBC journalist, author and specialist in freedom-of-information laws. Follow him on Twitter: @DeanBeeby

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