Avert Magazine

Speakers urge awareness at the Manitoba Disaster Management Conference

January 30, 2023
By Haley Nagasaki

Presentations shared an insider’s look into grief awareness and cybercrime preparedness in Part 1 of our two-part conference coverage.

Greg Simmonds, director of incident management and operational co-ordination for the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security, presents at the 2023 Manitoba Disaster Management Conference. Photo: Annex Business Media.

The Manitoba Disaster Management Conference (MDMC) returned to Winnipeg last week, as it does every 18 months, for a three-day event with an underlying theme MDMC board member Paul White described as: “It could happen here.”

The venue was composed of a main ballroom, breakout rooms, and various event sponsors posted up in booths between the ballroom and dinner hall. This served as the setting for an event that leaned into the awareness surrounding the aftermath of recent Canadian and international tragedies, from the Portapique, N.S., mass shooting in 2020, to pandemic recovery, climate preparedness, escalating cyber threats, and the Parkland, Fla., school shooting that approaches its five-year mark this February.

Serena Lewis, master’s social worker and consultant, headed the charge advocating for trauma-informed and grief-aware structures within our institutions, speaking with the mayor of Colchester County, N.S., Christine Blair, during the conference’s opening session: “Leadership in the aftermath of a mass casualty,” and again during a breakout session on Day 2 called, “The relief within grief: Why grief centered, trauma sensitive approaches are critical in the aftermath of disasters.”

“The experience of grief protects us from trauma.” – Dr. Gabor Maté, physician and author


Leadership in the aftermath

On Jan. 25, the full ballroom sat silently listening to Blair and Lewis recount the horrifying events of April 18 and 19, 2020. A Portapique resident set out on a rampage, both intentional and random, killing 22 people or 13 per cent of the rural town’s population in a matter of hours; outnumbering all covid deaths in the area.

Colchester County situated on the Bay of Fundy is home to the highest tides in the world, the ebb and flow of which was likened to the oscillation between pain and beauty encompassed in the experience of rural living.

Mayor Blair awoke Sunday, April 19 by a call from a reporter; this was the first she’d heard of the events. Mayor Blair would oblige 22 media interviews in the first five days following the largest mass shooting event in Canadian history. The gunman, a 51-year-old denturist dressed as an RCMP officer, was shot by police the morning of April 19 while attempting to gas up ­– 13 hours and 90 kilometers from where the spree began.

Blair and Lewis likened the ripple effect of victimization to a rock thrown into placid water. The shooter’s neighbour Leon Joudrey died by suicide just last year. The audiences’ attention was brought to the realities of domestic violence and gender-based traumas that surround this case, and the bodily manifestations of trauma in the aftermath of tragedy. The death toll of this tragedy has reached 24 people – a figure that includes 22 victims, an unborn child, and now Joudrey.

‘Long term aftermath cannot be an afterthought’

The mental health approach to healing trauma – a soul wound – was unpacked in the use of language and the notions of sympathy vs. empathy vs. compassion; compassion being the appropriate avenue in the aftermath as it is “connected and action-oriented,” Lewis said. Compassionate actions include policy change and mental health prevention plans.

Lewis advised listeners to pay attention to silence in the aftermath because, “silence can become our biggest scream.” She spoke to the proactive needs of processing shock and trauma before symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) present and addresses the concept of resilience as occurring simultaneously to grief, not in isolation of it.

The theme of community-based approaches to healing was present within all MDMC discourse this year because, as Blair pointed out, “working in silos creates fractions in planning.” Preparing, responding, mourning, recovering, and healing are done interconnectedly within our communities, while the tides continue flowing between pain and beauty, and beauty to pain.

Finally, the collaborative sense of creativity and grief literacy skills includes aligning federal, provincial, and municipal governments with leaders from many backgrounds and the inclusion of law enforcement to create dialogue and the space to ask for help when needed, Lewis said.

Grief literacy in the media

Grief literacy extends to the media outlets where training must occur and questions posed, such as, “Are people ready to speak to media?” in the aftermath of a tragedy.

Jill Macyshon, Winnipeg bureau chief for CTV National News, and Paul Samyn, editor of Winnipeg Free Press, expressed how their newsrooms’ No. 1 motivation is to serve the public. They believe aligning the work of media with the interest of the public makes for stronger communities overall.

Macyshon and Samyn affirmed, “the media is not the enemy,” and will continue to pose the question: “What does the public need most at this time?”

For law enforcement and public figures, the reporters noted the verbiage in news releases will drive how the story unfolds. The language and literacy of all media statements are crucial to the public’s digestion and assimilation of information, informing their cognitive and emotional reactions, they said.

The national cyber threat assessment  

While the way information is intentionally crafted to serve the public stands as an essential pillar of our interconnected world, it is the work of criminals seeking to incite personal gain and pandemonium that stands as its opponent through theft, falsehood, and assaults against critical infrastructure that in 2023 are already overtaxed.

The advent of technological advance and the landscape of a post-pandemic world denotes the precarious conditions for cybercrime. Greg Simmonds, director of incident management and operational co-ordination for the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security, stood before a crowd in the ballroom describing the many facets of security including conditions by which the pandemic heightened cyber threat (think doctor’s appointments and cloud-based services), coupled with geopolitical competition and conflict affiliated with the inherent nature of security breaches.

The organization’s role includes incident handling, 24/7 support, access to intelligence, community building, advice/guidance, and cyber defense services. Of top concern is the national cyber threat assessment that seeks to highlight what’s driving cyber threat trends, Simmonds said, citing Canada as a top target for actors.

Since 2021, there have been 150,000 reports of fraud and over $1 billion stolen, mainly through ransomware targeting critical infrastructure like municipalities and hospitals. Cybercrime spreads malware through software updates, exploits weakness in code, and threatens the greater supply chain.

Listing practical steps to mitigation, Simmonds urged listeners to protect themselves. “Patch your systems fast and frequently,” he said. Lock your systems, avoid public Wi-Fi, and use encryption tools to reduce access to data. Lastly, use multi-factor authentication and don’t reuse passwords; even carry a key with your fingerprint.

Through a developed incident response plan, organizations are equipping themselves to contain cybercrime while advocating the public take steps to protect themselves, too, Simmonds said.

Editor’s note: Stay tuned for Part 2 of Avert’s conference coverage soon!

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