File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS Security officials say they’re ready for the huge crowds set to descend on Parliament Hill for Canada’s 150th birthday celebration Saturday. A police officer surveys the grounds in front of Parliament in Ottawa.

Security researchers eyeing Parliament Hill

OTTAWA — Security officials say they’re ready for the throngs set to descend on Parliament Hill for Canada’s 150th birthday celebration Saturday.

But that doesn’t mean federal researchers are done thinking about how to better protect the country’s seat of democracy in the months and years ahead.

Advisers are gathering data on everything from crowd flows to video-camera placement to ensure both security and openness in the parliamentary precinct.

Parliament Hill security is a “tough nut to crack” because of the fine balance between guarding the most important democratic institutions while keeping the grounds open to people, said Rami Youssef of the federal Centre for Security Science, a wing of Defence Research and Development Canada.

After a gunman stormed the Hill in October 2014, dying in a hail of bullets in the Hall of Honour, the centre completed two studies. One looked at the physical security of Parliament’s Centre Block, while the other delved into procedures for handling visitors and employees in the parliamentary precinct.

The most tangible result of the armed assault was creation of the unified Parliamentary Protective Service, drawing together forces from the RCMP, House of Commons and Senate.

The centre’s researchers need more information before making the next set of recommendations to decision-makers, Youssef said in an interview.

“The reality is there’s a lot of data to be collected, and a lot of data to be studied and analyzed,” he said. “We have to go little by little, because they cannot make any drastic changes just overnight.”

Researchers are interested in the varied nature of the crowds that turn up on Parliament Hill, as well as the ebb and flow of pedestrian traffic at different times of day.

Plans were revealed four years ago to boost video-camera coverage of the Hill substantially to guard against possible attacks by detecting abandoned packages, suspicious activity and disturbances.

Researchers are studying different types of cameras, their placement and the percentage of visual coverage on the Hill, Youssef said.

Work has been focused to date on trying to prevent attacks in the parliamentary precinct but, time permitting, the centre might explore other types of threats and hazards, such as an earthquake or other natural disaster, he added.

Many parts of the Hill are undergoing extensive renovations. That could be a welcome opportunity to embed security changes into revamped buildings, Youssef said.

The new Parliamentary Protective Service is working with the centre researchers on projects throughout the precinct, but disclosing details of the efforts “would expose operational tactics and measures” that could affect safety, said Melissa Rusk, a spokeswoman for the protective service.

Federal officials are also reviewing the mandate of the Government Operations Centre, the focal point for monitoring major national events and emergencies. In addition, they are seeking a new home for the Ottawa-based centre.

During the 2014 shooting, the centre lacked computer technicians, food was limited and senior emergency officials weren’t in the building, according to internal documents released two years ago.

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Jim Bronskill , The Canadian Press

 

Security officials say they’re ready for the huge crowds set to descend on Parliament Hill for Canada’s 150th birthday celebration Saturday.A police officer surveys the grounds in front of Parliament in Ottawa Wednesday, June 29, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson


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