Spring/Summer 2017

Keeping up with a fast-paced risk and hazard environment

By Dr. Mark Williamson

There is a science and technology (S&T) element in all the threats, risks and hazards that Canadians face domestically and globally. It defines both our individual and collective vulnerabilities to risks and hazards, as well as being one of our key preventive and responsive safeguards.

You see it in every day elements of your organization’s / department’s work and mandate. What is relatively new, say in the last decade, is the recognition that the systems and processes we live with today are largely founded upon how we viewed the world 20 or 30 years ago, and thus may not be the best suited when preparing for and responding to a very apparent increase in tempo in threats, risks and hazards. This applies across the technological, societal and natural continuum of change, and is not restricted to S&T. Kevin Lynch, a former Clerk of the Privy Council, framed the problem recently in The Globe and Mail:

“ … [The issue] is the growing gap between the scale, scope and speed of these transformations and the capacity of government to implement timely and effective policy changes. Put simply, in today’s dynamic world, last generation governance and policy processes are a poor match for next generation disruptive trends…”

Similarly, the policy renewal efforts that Michael Wernick, the current Clerk, champions is in response to this, as are a number of other government initiatives.

Thus, the challenge within such a dynamic environment is: how do we keep up with the pace or get ahead of the changes with respect to ensuring that the necessary policy, regulation, legislation and societal expectations are fully informed by credible, timely evidence assessments?

This is not only a Canadian issue; it has been broadly recognized globally. PricewaterhouseCoopers recently released a report on global mega trends that impact global and domestic security and safety threats. These include accelerating urbanization, climate change and resource scarcity, the rise of technological change, shifts in global economic power, as well as pervasive demographic shifts, notably increasing numbers of youth.

This and other reports emphasize the compounding effect of these changes, with their interplay often leading to safety and security vulnerabilities. All of these have a profound and variable impact on the home game. Climate change, for example, is being witnessed in Canada through the well documented increased frequency of flooding, flash flooding, and wildfires.

Through investments in S&T, the Canadian Safety and Security Program (CSSP) is driven to satisfy the evidence and capability needs of Canada’s safety and security actors and practitioners as they deal with the rising array of policy, regulation, legislation, negotiation and societal expectation challenges. This increasingly emphasizes the need to innovate in the technology space at the speed of, or faster than, the risk and hazard environment rather than the speed our systems currently allow.

Thus, we are continually looking at how we can go about speeding up our evaluation, decision and implementation processes and, of course, value and welcome any comments and suggestions you may have.

Dr. Mark Williamson is Director General at Defence Research and Development Canada’s Centre for Security Science

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New Canadian-led network takes on world’s deadliest viruses

By Marija Cemma and Loren A. Matheson

An Emerging Network

On a cold morning in March, 2016, at the tail end of an Ebola outbreak in West Africa, a group of dedicated scientists and decision makers from around the world gathered at the Canadian Science Centre for Human and Animal Health in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The Centre is a unique building - it houses two laboratories specially designed to handle the deadliest pathogens, disease causing agents like Ebola virus, Crime-an-Congo hemorrhagic fever virus, and Nipah virus. These laboratories are technically known in Canada as Containment Level 4, or internationally as Biosafety Level-4 (BSL4), laboratories.

These labs are few and far between; Canada has two, while many countries do not have any. Working in geographical isolation, these institutions face barriers when it comes to effective collaboration, thereby preventing an efficient exchange of material, information, and expertise.

To explore enhanced institutional cooperation, Dr. Primal Silva, Chief Science Operating Officer at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), invited key BSL4 personnel from Australia, Canada, Germany, United Kingdom and the United States to discuss a common vision for the future.

Over two and a half days of discussion, participants identified the biggest challenges and agreed to work together to strengthen partnerships and improve the global capacity to respond to the threat of zoonotic diseases (diseases that spread from animals to humans). The creation of this Biosafety Level 4 Zoonotic Laboratory Network (BSL4ZNet) was funded by the Canadian Safety and Security Program (CSSP).

“Biosafety Level 4 threats are global disease threats and do not respect country borders. This network brings together the right people with the right expertise in order to face current and emerging biological threats,” stressed Dr. Silva.

Canadian Capacity-Building

Through support from the CSSP, BSL4ZNet is reinforcing critical capacity at the CFIA’s National Centre for Foreign Animal Diseases (NCFAD), the only BSL4 laboratory in Canada focused on animal health. Dr. Hana Weingartl, the founding Head of Special Pathogens Unit at the NCFAD said, “BSL4ZNet has helped us collaborate closely with other leading veterinary biosafety level 4 laboratories and will help Canada more rapidly detect biological threats in animals.”

The network has helped us recruit four post-doctoral scientists to conduct novel research and establish new diagnostic capacity in Ebola, Nipah and Rift Valley fever, and help key lab personnel exchange knowledge and best practices with Australian and German colleagues.

The BSL4 research and diagnostics at NCFAD rely on dedicated, long-term employees like biologist, Peter Marszal. The network recently gave Peter the opportunity to observe laboratory practices in Geelong, Australia. “Going to the Australian lab was an invaluable experience! In my opinion, this is the most effective way to share knowledge and form long-term collaborative relationships. As a result, we have created efficiencies in our own laboratory and we look forward to hosting our Australian colleagues in Winnipeg in the near future.”

These key investments have advanced laboratory prepared- ness to anticipate and face high consequence pathogens and have positioned Canada as a leader on the international stage.

Network Success

A year after its formation, BSL4ZNet is a highly respected network of trusted relationships whose success has been internationally recognized by colleagues both inside and outside the group. To date, BSL4ZNet has grown to include over 60 active participants that have contributed to over 32 international teleconferences and shared over 100 documents on a secure web-based platform. These are small but critical steps towards transforming the status quo.

“The most remarkable attributes of BSL4ZNet are the contagious energy and infectious enthusiasm brought by all partners to each meeting. Their eagerness to share information and willingness to work collaboratively has built incredible momentum to address shared priorities and to re-define the future of how the high containment lab community works together,” emphasized the Network Secretariat.

Value beyond Canada

Beyond Canadian borders, the network has strengthened international partnerships that have enhanced our collective capabilities. Globally, partner organizations are supporting the network strategy by committing their people, expertise and corporate knowledge. Dr. Melissa Pearce, a High Containment Laboratory Manager at the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said, “BSL4ZNet has created a much-needed platform to bring forward pressing BSL4 related queries and obtain prompt, educated information from international experts”.

Institutional cooperation has allowed the Network to survey laboratory operations, biosafety procedures, as well as lab maintenance and response protocols. This information is being used to develop best practice guidelines that can improve how we work internationally. Additionally, a sub-group of Network members interested in training has been actively working to address the current and future needs of world-class biosafety level 4 personnel.

The network has produced a comprehensive training catalogue and has developed a work plan to address specific gaps in biosafety level 4 training. These are just a few examples of ongoing strategic initiatives that are strengthening the international biosafety level 4 community.

Dr. Elizabeth Lautner, Associate Deputy Administrator, United States Department of Agriculture, applauds “Canada’s leadership in bringing together the BSL4 laboratories around the world; BSL4ZNet is helping protect animal health and public health for all of us.”


BSL4ZNet has a bold vision of creating a global alliance of biosafety level 4 laboratories to optimize how we combat the global threat of diseases that spread from animals to humans. With engagement from all relevant partners, the network is well on its way and has an ambitious agenda for years to come.

“We are very pleased with the way all network partners have contributed to the success of BSL4ZNet and we are highly committed to moving this network forward in the coming years to meet future challenges” said Dr. Primal Silva.

CFIA is dedicated to building these relationships during times of peace, so that resources and information are readily available in times of need. This robust, coordinated approach to prevent, detect, and quickly respond to future infectious disease outbreaks will ultimately contribute to a safer and more secure world.

Marija Cemma, PhD is a Science Analyst and Loren A. Matheson, PhD is a Science Advisor within the Office of Chief Science Operating Office at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

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Looking Ahead: Security planning for the G7 Summit

By Pierre Trudel

Canada’s 150th birthday celebrations, as well as the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games, are two recent examples of major events that were exciting and glamorous, but posed complex security challenges requiring extensive and collaborative planning.

Next year, it will be Canada’s turn to host the 44th annual Group of Seven (G7) Summit in Charlevoix, Québec. The G7 is an informal grouping of seven of the world’s advanced economies consisting of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Every year, G7 leaders, ministers, and policy makers come together at the G7 Summit to discuss common values and issues of domestic and global concern. As the host, Canada will be responsible for ensuring the safety and security of the event as well protecting the high-profile international delegates attending the event.

“Over the years, Defence Research and Development Canada’s Centre for Security Science (DRDC CSS) has worked closely with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) on a number of projects and activities in support of major events security planning, including the Canada Day 150 celebrations and the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games, as well as the previous G8 and G20 Summits held in Canada,” said Dr. Mark Williamson, Director General, DRDC CSS. “Given the credibility established through supporting past events, we have been asked yet again to assist in the security planning for next year’s G7 Summit.”

While the RCMP has overall responsibility for G7 Summit security planning, DRDC CSS’s role is to design develop and deliver an Integrated Exercise Program, through which security planners will be able to team build, test organizational capabilities and validate plans to support interoperability of Summit operations partners. In its efforts, DRDC CSS will be assisted by a group of exercise experts from the Canadian Army Simulation Centre. These exercises will also lead to the development of complex plans, a concept of operations, and the identification of specific roles and responsibilities.


Exercises are an essential part of enhancing security because they enable planners to validate plans, identify weak spots, and adjust as required.

There are two exercises planned - a table top exercise and a functional exercise. Participants will include local first responders, safety and security practitioners, science and technology subject matter experts, government officials, G7 Summit planners, and other stakeholders involved in the G7 Summit planning process.

SENTINELLE I, the table top exercise, is scheduled for October 24 and 25, 2017 and will ensure that all partners are aware of their jurisdictional responsibilities and operational posture during the Summit. Partners will discuss testing, training, roles and responsibilities, security requirements, and establish operational plans.

SENTINELLE II, scheduled for March 2018, will be a functional exercise that will put the operational plans to the test. This exercise could include some live events, and will lead to a declaration of operational readiness for the security and safety apparatus of the G7 Summit.

“These exercises offer an environment to test capabilities, familiarize organizations and personnel with assigned roles, and foster meaningful interaction. DRDC CSS is very proud to support the G7 Summit planning and we are confident that our past expertise and knowledge has put us in an excellent position to conduct these exercises and provide essential security planning advice to the RCMP,” said Dr. Williamson.

Follow us on Twitter, where we will post updates on DRDC CSS’s role in G7 Summit security planning.

Pierre Trudel is the Integrated Exercise Program Director at the G7 Summit Management Office, Global Affairs Canada.

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Waiter, there’s a DNA thread in my soup!

By Burton Blais

When it comes to food supply safety in the industrialized world, the risk is continually changing. New threats from microbes or chemicals can arise due to natural evolution, climate change and other factors, such as trends like the centralization of food manufacturing operations with broad distribution bases. Consumer preferences like the increasing demand for ready-to-eat foods can also foster risk. For example, fresh packaged salads and meats can develop critical levels of harmful bacteria that can cause serious illness in humans.

To counter these hazards, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and other regulatory authorities use a risk-based inspection approach. At the heart of this approach is the need to understand the nature of the hazards in foods such as bacteria or viruses. Food inspectors must determine which bacteria they are dealing with, how robust it is, and what type of virulence factors it possesses—in other words, just how “armed and dangerous” is it?

To identify the presence of these hazards, testing laboratories need efficient analytical technologies that provide actionable results as quickly as possible. During a food-borne illness outbreak, any delay in getting critical test results in the hands of investigators may have public health consequences. The current process requires shipping food pathogens to specialized reference laboratories across Canada for further analysis. For key pathogens, such as listeria monocytogenes and salmonella, the entire process can take over a week to complete.

Genomic (the study of genomes, an organism’s set of DNA) technologies allow new possibilities for comprehensive analyses of bacteria from food inspection samples. Next generation sequencing (NGS) approaches being developed in CFIA research laboratories can quickly reveal the entire genetic blueprint—or genome—of bacteria from food samples. The genetic blueprint provides an unprecedented wealth of information to help us investigate food-borne illness outbreaks. It allows food safety investigators to accurately assess the public health impacts of bacteria found in foods. It can even shed light on the ability of harmful bacteria to resist the antibiotics used to treat illness!

“The use of this very precise technology allows us to make connections that were previously impossible and to monitor food safety measures more efficiently," said José Riva, Director of the CFIA Lab in St. Hyacinthe, Quebec.

The CFIA now uses next generation sequencing in its food testing laboratories, all of which have received training in DNA sequencing of bacterial isolates. This was based on previous work funded through the Canadian Safety and Security Program that aimed to develop a food pathogen genomics program using NGS technology to support food microbiology inspection objectives.

In this model, the laboratories perform DNA sequencing of bacteria as soon as they are recovered from food samples, applying CFIA-developed computer analyses to identify the bacteria. Then, rather than shipping the bacteria to specialized reference laboratories for further characterization as they would do in the past, analysts simply press “send” and transmit the entire DNA sequence to a centralized bioinformatics processing hub in Ottawa. It is here where more advanced analyses are carried out on the data, rather than on the bacteria themselves. This analysis can determine how harmful they are, DNA signatures, antibiotic resistance and other important features that help investigators to determine exactly what they are dealing with. This information helps guide decisions on how to best safeguard the food-consuming public.

“The result of this project is savings in time because the frontline labs can now complete the DNA sequencing on site, without the standard shipping of bacteria isolates to the reference laboratory. In addition, by removing the shipping step, we eliminate any potential shipping related risks such as delays or loss during transport,” said Todd Marrow, Director of the Greater Toronto Area CFIA laboratory, one of the lab sites using next generation sequencing.

In this manner, the time required to complete a comprehensive analysis of food bacteria is shortened, and valuable data can be stored for future reference. Best of all, the genomics approach can be standardized. It also increases government transparency because the data and all processes used in its analysis are well documented, accessible and available to any person or organization involved in food safety.

“The chain of custody for samples has become much shorter now that all test materials stay in one laboratory. This means that we are in a better place to stand behind our test results should we ever need to defend them,” added Marrow.

An integrated network of food testing laboratories paves the way to use this exciting new testing technology to support Canadian food inspection programs. This is of great value to Canadians, for whom food safety is an everyday concern.

Dr. Burton Blais is the Section Head of the Research and Development Section, Ottawa Laboratory Carling, at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

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Technologies and Training at the RCMP Depot

By Jason Dielschneider

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Depot Division currently trains approximately 1,200 cadets every year. Like many professions, and partly due to “baby boomer” demographics, the RCMP has a large number of members who are close to retirement. In order to meet future demands for RCMP members, the number of cadets is set to rise to 1,500 in the coming years.

Given the increasing number of cadets to be trained, the RCMP Depot is always looking for opportunities to increase training effective- ness and efficiency. As policing becomes increasingly complex, the RCMP is proactive in finding ways to improve training methods. For example, in 2014, the driver training curriculum was completely re-written to include driving simulation. As a result, cadets now spend 18% of their driver training in a simulator. In addition, funding provided by the Canadian Safety and Security Program (CSSP) to investigate the use of simulators for marksmanship also led to another notable success. Thanks to the results of this research the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centre (FLETC) in the U.S. has incorporated simulated marksmanship training into their own program, and the RCMP is in the process of a curriculum re-write that will be completed in 2018.

In recent years, several new Targeted Investment (TI) projects have been initiated to investigate the use of new and innovative technologies to improve cadet training. Two notable projects that investigate the use of these technologies include research in:

Virtual Reality

A technology that is advancing at an incredible pace is Virtual Reality (VR). These systems have now become so advanced that organizations across the entire safety and security spectrum have started looking at VR as a potential tool to enhance training.

Recent physiological data captured at the RCMP Depot indicates that, during judgement training, cadets are not exhibiting significant “stress” responses when confronted with conventional use of force scenarios. A new CSSP TI project has been initiated to investigate incorporating VR technologies into marksmanship and judgement training. The goal of this project is to investigate if an immersive VR environment will provide more realistic, “real-world” stressors during training scenarios.

As the safety and security domain continues to investigate opportunities to incorporate this technology into their training domains, we find that research in this area is lacking. A recent Canada/U.S. Simulation Technology Group (CUSSTG) meeting was focused solely on VR technologies and its use in safety and security. While agencies such as the U.S. Secret Service, the FBI, and the FLETC are all working in this area, it was the RCMP who demonstrated that they are at the forefront in this area. This success was only possible through the CSSP project that is underway, and these agencies are now looking North for guidance.

Cognitive Training

Another area that is garnering attention is the use of technology to improve cognitive functioning. The basic concept is to use emerging computer software technology to improve decision-making skills. This technology has been successfully adopted by several professional sports teams as a means to improve performance. The RCMP Depot, through a new CSSP TI project, is now investigating whether this technology could be used to enhance marksmanship and judgement skills. The Canadian Armed Forces and their counterparts in the U.S. are also looking at this technology as a means to improve performance, but with elite level soldiers. The theorized benefits for novice level cadets cannot be overstated; however, this requires more scientific research. This TI project will lay the foundation for scientific, evidence-based decision making when considering this technology for integration into the cadet training program.

The RCMP Depot Division is world-renowned and its training programs and technologies have been integrated in other jurisdictions. Given these past successes, research into new technologies has become a cornerstone in improving the cadet training program. While many of the training methods are historically grounded, research investigating the effectiveness of emerging technologies will be key to training the next generation of RCMP members.

Jason Dielschneider is a Project Manager at Defence Research and Development Canada.

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