On the morning of October 22, 2014, I lived an extraordinary event on Parliament Hill. We were having our weekly management meeting when we were brusquely interrupted and informed that a ceremonial guard at the Canadian National War Memorial, across the street from our location, had been shot. Being security practitioners, we all ran down to the site to assess the situation.
Simultaneously, our Chief Security Officer ordered a lockdown for our organization, prompting the necessary emergency procedures for such a situation. A few minutes later, we were informed that a gunman had entered the Centre Block and that a shoot-out had occurred in the Hall of Honour. The Parliament of Canada was under siege.
During the initial moment of the attack, I observed the prompting of the integrated command structure that united the various law enforcement and security organizations. First responders and security practitioners were instantly called to teamwork and cooperation, requiring them to shoulder new responsibilities, to become networked and interactive with one another in order to achieve the high level of performance required to defend the parliamentary precinct.
It is not always like that. Post 9/11, most security experts recognize the need and benefit to collaboration, yet this remains difficult to achieve in a dynamic inter-organizational and inter-jurisdictional networked environment. This situation has triggered a key question: how can a security practitioner be accountable to his “home” unit while at the same time be operational in a well-orchestrated collaborative security networks where roles, responsibilities and authorities are clearly established?
Making Networked Collaborations Work:the Social Glue
To succeed, network collaborations must be subject to values, norms and principles that are accepted and implemented by all participants. Although the agencies responsible for security management often share similar training and operate under a common structural framework during an emergency (known as the Incident Command System or ICS), the pull originating from each organization’s respective goals, rules and practices continues to be a fundamental challenge for security practitioners.
There are multiple accountabilities at play. Organizations concentrate on defining accountability within a normative and prescriptive framework. It takes the forms of legislations, policies, procedures and guidelines. The ICS bears hierarchical characteristics, but it must coordinate many stakeholders and actors each with their own accountabilities. Authority is divided and disputed between network participants. This complexity, inherent to security management, challenges decision makers and security practitioners’ accountability towards both their organizations and their community of practice.
In the case of the attack on the Centre Block, the initial identification of the Incident Commander in charge was complicated by the inter-jurisdictional situation (i.e. local, national or parliamentary security agencies). It was crystallized by a spontaneous, self-organized command structure that came from the social interaction of key senior managers in the major law enforcement and security organizations.
As the day unfolded, I also observed two major security management network collaborations being formed, one law enforcement-centric, and the other bringing together the corporate security practitioners (such as me). In my role as the security advisor to one the major parliamentary organization’s crisis committee, I was at the nexus of both groups.
Everyone knew everyone, yet even here the collaboration and information-sharing were initially difficult between these groups. To mitigate this direct accessibility to the law enforcement group, I had to leverage informal and trusted connections to gain a better situational awareness, and to resolve issues with the law enforcement group.
For instance, I called friends and contacts in other security organizations to gather additional information and to assist in resolving issues throughout the day. To address more systemic issues, I tried to leverage the formal incident command structure through our liaison officer to better coordinate our activities. These formal and informal social arrangements illustrated the complexity, self-organizing, emergent, and evolving properties of security management network collaboration. It also demonstrates the personal nature of how someone sees his or her role, authority and accountability.
My observations from this incident lead me to conclude that an individual involved in a security collaborative environment also enact a sense of accountability that has emerged from past, current and projected social interactions with others.
These participants face the challenging task of having to blend structural, moral and ethical tensions in an emergency situation. Structural and personal accountability discourses must conjugate with personal attitudes toward the employer and its collaboration obligations. Interestingly, the ways a participant approaches his/her accountability duties will affect others. At no time do security practitioners live the same experience in a given situation. Individual participants simultaneously co-create their collective futures together on an on-going basis.
The ICS in Action: Formal and Informal Collaboration
The response to the attack on Parliament clearly demonstrated that law enforcement and security practitioners have distinct, yet complementary roles. Engagement in network collaboration was key to success although each participant faced an individual accountability framework coming from the structural and personal discourse.
To tackle these challenges, various formal and informal communication and collaborative protocols were established between participants. The use of relational communicative strategies (communicative arrangements that are loosely structured based upon chemistry between people) to maintain effective collaboration between partners was paramount to address confronting accountability issues between the personal and structural discourse.
Formal collaborative strategies that are officially recognized by all parties and based on planned and specific business objectives enabled security practitioners to address internalized moral and ethical accountability-related dilemma as it can reinforce actions that we think must be taken as the final account for a decision is diffused among all networked participants.
As opposed to formal strategies, informal collaborative strategies are loosely structured based upon chemistry between partners. Informal collaborative relationships will sometimes even develop into long-term professional or friendly relationships.
These formal and informal social arrangements greatly illustrate the complexity, self-organizing, emergent, and evolving properties of collaborative security networks. Additionally, participants in these networks have to be engaged in open communication, active listening and constant information sharing to resolve or to reduce the negative effects of these situations.
These communicative collaboration mechanisms organized around the security management networks enable the participants to address the accountability tensions and to resolve issues quickly; it also demonstrates the personal nature of how someone’s see his or her role, authority and accountability.
As security practitioners in network collaboration are provided with different levels of authority in collaborative security networks, tensions emerging from the structural and personal discourse seem to differ from individuals based on roles and involvement in these collaborative security networks.
Interestingly, security practitioners are more likely to be engaged in the creation of perception of active collaboration between agencies, although these tensions are present, since the overall accountability for results in a major security situation remain a fluid and complex social phenomenon, and that no one wants to be ‘called to account’.
Following the attack, the Senate and the House of Commons asked the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to lead physical security for Parliament, and a new joint security service was created. This initiative clearly demonstrated how organizations continue to favour defining accountability within a legal, normative and prescriptive framework. Nevertheless, any improvement to network collaboration mechanisms would not prevent the fact that participants in network collaboration will have diverse views and face particular challenges specific to their own situation. The RCMP is only now ultimately accountable to merge these diverse views.
The social derivative of network collaboration is real and must be acknowledged by participants. The result is a way of thinking about life in organization that focuses attention on how organizational participants cope with the unknown and create a future through their interactions. This perspective on being accountable in security management network collaboration can serve policy makers and security practitioners in understanding the challenges of network collaborations, which could inform the development of security management normative and operational architecture. As being accountable is a construction of a complex social phenomenon, every individual would interpret their experience differently, creating tensions coming out from participants’ structural operating framework, and own personal believes, norms, and values.
My personal view is that organizational phenomena cannot be understood only from a legal and normative perspective; it must be also understood in terms of one’s own personal experience of participation in the creation of interaction patterns.
Maxime Messier is currently Director, Entreprise Security and Corporate Services at Elections Canada. On October 22, 2014, he was serving as Chief, Operational Support for the Senate Protective Service. He also served for 20 years in the Canadian Armed Forces. He is currently engaged in the Doctorate program at the Ecole nationale d’administration publique.