On February 23rd, 2012, the RGI and Carleton University’s School of Public Policy and Administration (SPPA), held a Critical Conversation™ on Occupant Management and Re-occupancy of Buildings after Bio-terrorism. In attendance where people from different departments and levels of government, academics from key universities, and private sector representatives.

After an introduction from Dr. Susan Phillips, Director of the SPPA at Carleton University, the morning proceedings started with three distinguished guest speakers:

  • Dr. Dorothy Canter, an internationally recognized expert in decontamination of biological agents and in preparedness activities for responding to and recovering from attacks with weapons of mass destruction. Her presentation focused on the lessons learned since the 2001 Anthrax attacks in the United States.
  • Prof. Ruthanne Huissing from McGill University, an MIT trained expert in the sociology of complex safety issues.  Her presentation focused on a sociological perspective on responses to regulation and danger.
  • Dr. Robert Slater, Director of the Regulatory Governance Initiative. His presentation focused on the lessons learned from two incidents – the Iceland volcano eruption of 2010 and the derailment of a chlorine bearing train in Graniteville, SC in 2005.

Following the keynote speakers, a roundtable discussion was held to answer what is the top policy priority/action required to address each of the three following challenges:

  • Ensuring that we have the scientific and technical capacity to deal with each of the critical aspects of a bio-terrorist event, with particular focus on occupant management and re-occupancy;
  • Ensuring that roles and responsibilities are known, understood, and practical; and
  • Ensuring the achievement of social consent throughout the entire process, concluding with the re-occupancy of the decontaminated building

The following is a summary of the top seven priorities identified by the participants ranked, in order, according to the number of votes received:

  1. Improve state of preparedness by investing in real life exercises/drills
  1. Identify scientific and technical expertise available, understand it and integrate it into potential capacity
  1. Recognize that awareness, education and confidence building of public is ongoing
  1. Know the type of expertise required at each critical step
  1. Need evidence based research to fill knowledge gaps and support/negate intuition surrounding standards or best practices
  1. Need to conduct gap analysis with all/broad stakeholders in order to conduct real strategic long term planning of priorities, resources, and equipment expenditures
  1. Social media management

The morning concluded with a panellist discussion based on the discussion paper, the presentations and the round table discussion.

  • Dr. Anne McKenzie, Consultant, Food Safety and Animal Health. Her contribution was focused on the importance of strenthening the “preparedeness pillar” of Emergency Managegment.
  • Dr. Edward Ellis, Medical Consultant, Ottawa Public Health. Reflecting on the day’s proceedings Dr. Ellis produced a list of recommendations on the issues that he believes are the most pressing. These recommendations addressed: (a) how to improve the preparedness of workplaces, first responders, and government officials to a potential attack; and (b) how to improve the response both during the incident and after.

Dr. Slater concluded the  discussion with a few comments on the Critical Conversation™ dialogue. He commented on the many similarities in the prorities identified by different groups. The two critical issues identified by the group were:

  • The need to identify in advance the scientific and technical experts able to help local authorities, and 
  • To develop evidence-based research to identify best practices for all aspects of an event.

This workshop was a multi-centre partnership, in part supported by the Centre for Security Science and Health Canada