Editorial: Utility of the emergency alert system shows its worth

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News that Manitoulin holds the distinction of being the subject of only the second use of Ontario’s emergency alert system, the first apparently being the announcement of the COVID-19 lockdown, might be unsettling, but it is clear that the system will prove its worth in future years.

As events unfolded at the Wright Street residence that would eventually result in an attempted murder charge for a Gore Bay resident, social media was quickly abuzz with ever-escalating tales of murder and mayhem—bringing huge stress and alarm into the lives of residents of that community.

While it may have taken a concerning amount of time from the beginning of the incident until the first alert went out to the community over the cell phone system network and official social media outlets and the distribution was still not universal, the advisory helped residents know what actions they should (or should not) take in response to the incident.

Overall, the police handled the situation very well, locking down the area to prevent concern from spreading and then de-escalating the situation under what must have been extremely stressful conditions for the officers on the front lines. That, despite plenty of opportunity to use extreme and fatal force to resolve the situation, the officers took a route that resulted in no casualties is commendable.

Unfortunately, there will likely be plenty of opportunities to fine tune the emergency alert process and improve its response and activation times going forward, but there are some lessons to be learned from this instance.

Any serious concerns that  alerting residents to the situation would result in swarms of kibitzing or curious onlookers should be laid to rest, at least in rural regions like Manitoulin. 

OPP detachment commander Inspector Megan Moriarty was clear in thanking the residents of Gore Bay in adhering to the OPP admonition to stay away from the area and to remain indoors, allowing the OPP to focus most of their resources on maintaining public safety.

The escalating rumours that were being circulated on social media during the incident did nothing to assist the situation and must have caused tremendous stress to those whose family members were in the vicinity. Sadly, would-be digital amateur journalists have neither the training nor the cautious restraint routinely required of a professional. In the absence of facts, too many social media posters are willing to jump to conclusions and take baseless supposition in place of facts.

The restraint shown by the officer who initially found himself being fired upon was commendable as was the professionalism of all of the peace officers involved. This incident, and its conclusion, should speak as loudly us in assessing those unfortunate incidents that come to us from urban areas. How many such incidents take place in communities with millions of residents and do not result in tragedy?

This sad event has demonstrated how police response to mental health crises are able to come to a peaceful resolution without injury and Manitoulin is well-served by the integration and dedication of all of our police services.