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Planning for Major Events is Always a Challenge and More Complex Than Ever

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By Michael Sale, American Military University

I was a nineteen-year-old cadet with the Metropolitan Toronto Police when I was exposed to my first major public event: Two Toronto concerts at Maple Leaf Gardens as part of the Rolling Stones’ 1972 North American Tour. It seems quite amazing when one thinks of all the modern Stones concerts in Toronto and the extent to which they are part of a normal event-planning routine. But in 1972, after the release of Exile on Main Street and on the heels of several wild concerts in the United States and Vancouver, planning for the Toronto event seemed as comprehensive as any grand military operation during World War II, which, come to think of it, had only ended a mere 27 years before.

As I cadet, I had the weekend off; my real police career still two years away. I was, however, able to obtain a copy of the operational plan which I pored over for hours. It was a very thick document , listing the assignments of hundreds of Metropolitan Toronto Police officers in precise detail. Every task was spelled out and I was fascinated by the way in which the officers were given their details: a master plan had been carefully typed out and published for distribution within the police force. Police officer assignments where listed on pages in such a way that they could be torn from the parade sheets and handed to the officers for ready reference on the street following role call and briefings.  And for the record, Canada’s largest municipal police force had two photocopiers at the time, both of them located safely within police headquarters where every print-job was logged and counted.

I wasn’t surprised, in those days, when I read the direction that indicated that only police officers above the rank of sergeant would carry side-arms. Police constables, the front-line crowd-control uniform personnel were to be in uniform-of-the-day, but with a full Sam Browne belt with handcuff pouch only. This directive was driven by the concern that officers would be in close contact with large, possibly unruly crowds, and it was believed the potential for officers being disarmed was quite high. The obvious solution was to have the officers leave their guns locked up safely back at their stations. Of course 40 years later, police officers’ pistols are much more secure, but one can imagine the reaction today if street cops were directed to leave their weapons at the office. This does speak, however, to the extent to which times and methods have changed.

In the years that followed, I was directly involved in many public events and emergencies that required and organized police response: visits by Pope John Paul II, Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles and Lady Diana, Nelson Mandela, and back-to-back visits by President George H. W. Bush at Toronto’s SkyDome for the Blue Jays season opener and the MLB All Star Game. Each of these events drew very large crowds and various levels of required security. The introduction of new technology along made each operation more effective, but also much more complex and expensive.

Many of the people who managed these events were selected because of their demonstrated capacity for being organized and methodical. There were no courses and very little policy to rely on to prepare for major events but, over time, vast repositories of information and after-action reports became available for ready-reference by those who would study the fine are of event management.

In spite of all that has occurred and all that has been learned, some recent events have drawn public attention, the Vancouver Stanley Cup riot(s) and, for example, the unfortunate St. Patrick’s Day riot in London, Ontario in 2012. Combined with concerns raised at the 2012 G20 event in Toronto, there were calls for event management and emergency response personnel to gather to review methods and lessons learned with a view to developing enhanced approaches to major event management and emergency response across Canada.

To support this effort, the Canadian Interoperability Technology Interest Group and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police convened the first ever Operational Planning and Management of Public Safety Events Workshop in Toronto in February 2013. As an outcome of this meeting, conference organizers have summarized and published a draft document highlighting many of the important issues that emerged during various break-out sessions.

This draft document can be found on the CITIG and CACP Web sites and it is available for review and feedback. For those who are just beginning their careers in event management and for those veterans who have weathered the storm, there is something for everyone and your contribution to this important public service is welcome and appreciated.

As I recall, the Rolling Stones’ 1972 visit to Toronto was un-eventful. Some people theorize that by the time they got to Toronto, the tour was winding down and so were the Stones and their entourage. But we were ready.

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