Here, law enforcement officials meet bimonthly with firefighters, medical staff, public health, medical professionals and hospital administrators to talk out issues and make sure they’re always on the same page. These are the types of relationships law enforcement needs to foster before any real planning can occur, says Maj. Dale Greene, special operations commander for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg PD.
“If you are not working with your fire department, medical staff, public health and hospitals – if you don’t have solid relationships with these groups – you are destined for failure,” he says.
Virginia’s Fairfax County Police Department nurtured relationships by first learning how each public safety entity (health care included) operates. At the onset of planning, firefighters attended police roll calls, public health officials went on ride-a-longs, police officials met with public health representatives and shadowed them as they carried out their duties, and so on. “These efforts will help us work together side by side in a command-and-control situation,” says Maj. Josiah Larry Moser III. “We realize there will be chaos in any event like that – we saw it with Anthrax – but this gives us traction to move forward.”
Knowing one another’s duties helps avoid misunderstandings, adds Bernard, who recalls Ottawa’s initial plan called for police to guard key health care facilities and clinics. “But we could not provide these services during a pandemic if we were missing as much as one-third of our staff and had a surge in other calls,” he says. “When we talked with agencies and explained what we may or may not be able to deliver, it opened a lot of eyes and eliminated false assumptions.”
Step by step
With partnerships in place, law enforcement’s next steps must identify essential functions to maintain during health emergencies, and then set minimum staffing levels for each task.
Fairfax County assembled health department and law enforcement officials to generate a critical services list. Public health officials delivered presentations on what police officers could expect during a pandemic, then everyone met in smaller breakout groups to figure out how they would deliver key services within these specific parameters.
“We said, ‘OK, you came up with this list, how would you support it?’ ” Moser says. For instance, payroll was deemed a critical function; officers need to know they’ll continue to be paid in order to meet their own financial obligations. But what if half the payroll staff were out sick? The planning exercise helped officials pinpoint staff members in less crucial positions, who could pinch-hit in payroll. By labeling the skills necessary for critical functions, officials were able to pinpoint personnel with specific skill sets, who could assist as needed.
Pandemic plans should also account for the absence of infected employees or employees with infected family members with plans for specific sick leave policies. Planning should also address how the department will deal with staffing shortages that could rise as high as 30 percent, notes “Benchmarks for Developing a Law Enforcement Pandemic Flu Plan” from the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF).
Ottawa’s planning included an operational deployment chart identifying areas that might be shut down or reduced if 10, 20 or even 30 percent of the staff were out sick. For example, the department couldn’t freeze certain functions, like patrol, but might suspend a drug unit – at least temporarily.
Operational deployment plans can draw from lessons learned in prior emergencies. Greene states his department learned plenty about prioritizing calls for service during Hurricane Hugo in 1989. During this event, the department put sworn officers holding administrative positions back in the field to answer calls for service, dispatched academy recruits to help direct traffic, put investigations on hold until the crisis ended. (Homicides were addressed immediately, however.)
“Everything was prioritized and if it was not critical enough to be handled immediately, it was shelved,” Greene says. “After the crisis, we slowly worked our way back to normalcy.”