From a security perspective, there are at least two things to carefully consider in reflecting on what has become a very unfortunate case study.
The first relates to the role of security and infrastructure maintenance.
While it’s true that mall security guards, for example, are not structural engineers and are clearly not paid to stress-test roofs, they are monitoring the premises at all times through foot patrols and CCTV monitoring. As well, they frequently talk to tenants and are thus hearing countless anecdotes about life in the mall and the mall itself.
Therefore, in working closely with landlord personnel, mall security are a very valuable resource when it comes to seeing early-warning signs of infrastructure problems. They can flag issues as they see them. Whether that happened in the Elliot Lake situation is unclear at this point, though it is known that a former tenant successfully sued the mall owner for a leaking roof.
Security staff and security consultants can also help ensure that any renovations taken to fix those infrastructure problems do not lead to their own security issues. What better way for a criminal – in theory – to gain unlawful access to a mall than through an area where parts of the wall may be missing? Proper security mitigates those risks, and thus helps ensure the mall can stay in proper repair.
The second thing to consider is the role of security teams in working with first responders and recovery teams.
In emergencies, on-site security can quickly and efficiently direct first responders to the hot spots, while also suggesting alternate locations for gaining access and for setting up equipment.
The value of good security was reinforced in the recent Eaton Centre fatal shooting in Toronto when a gunman opened fire in the food court. In this case, the landlord – Cadillac Fairview – praised mall security for their quick and professional response to the tragic scene.
As was seen in the Elliot Lake situation, CCTV footage taken at the moment of the collapse helped the rescue and recovery team get a much better picture of what happened, where it happened, and how many people were in the affected area at the time. This is critical knowledge when dealing with a fluid and high-stress situation.
Staff-Inspector Bill Neadles, the commander for Toronto’s Heavy Urban Search and Rescue team sent in to lead the effort, said in a news conference that he reviewed security tape of the cave-in and it was a “miracle” more weren’t hurt.
“There were 26 people in the food court,” said Neadles after reviewing the footage. “There were people who had just left the lottery terminal, three seconds [before].”
The Elliot Lake collapse will be studied for a long time to come, just as the physical and emotional wounds ripped open by the falling roof will take years to heal. For those of us in the security industry, we can study this tragic turn of events to better understand how security can help avert disasters and help deal with disasters when they strike.