Planning should consider public communications as well. Ottawa developed canned e-mail and phone messages and signage to pull out during public health emergencies. “Maybe it’s typical to respond within 24 hours but you’re changing it to 48 hours for that type of call. Maybe you’re not going to send an officer immediately to a break-in, but you’ll respond as quickly as you can,” Bernard says. “How you plan to alter service deliveries must be communicated to the public.”
Wash your hands!
The above planning addresses law enforcement’s first priority in a pandemic, but fails to address its second, which is caring for the safety of staff members and their families. “The reality is that no officer is going to show up for work if they are worried that their child or spouse might die,” stresses Bernard.
Vaccinating staff and their families is a key piece of the puzzle. How, when and where will these vaccinations take place? Greene notes the Charlotte-Mecklenburg PD tested its vaccination plans during 2009’s H1N1 concerns. When the department received H1N1 vaccine, they set up a distribution point at the police and fire academy and were able to vaccinate every firefighter and police officer, electing to receive the vaccine, within three days. “We could have done it faster, but we did it in such a way that it did not affect our shifts or require officers to come in when off-duty,” he says. “Had it been an emerging crisis, we would have proceeded more quickly.”
Fairfax, Virginia, Police Chief Col. David Rohrer strongly believes departments need to keep employee well-being top of mind. His pandemic focus includes a means of releasing regular messages about threat levels and safeguarding health, covering everything from frequent hand washing to the use of proper personal protective equipment (PPE).
This department also tested their plans during the H1N1 concerns of last fall. “We took heavy steps to educate,” says Moser. “Stressing hand washing and general hygiene were among our primary efforts.” He adds the department did not create new educational messages, but rather distributed existing CDC reports and pamphlets. As flu season rolls out again this fall, the department plans to release these messages again.
Put it to the test
Pandemic business continuity plans must be tested before they are needed, adds Bernard. “If you develop the tools and put the planning in place, but never test it, it is meaningless,” he says. “What you put on paper is almost never a reality.”
Ottawa revisits its plan annually; testing it in both tabletop and full-scale exercises to make sure it still applies. Afterward, officials revise the checklist created for commanding officers to know exactly what steps to take in a pandemic.
Fairfax County incorporates pandemic training into other educational opportunities conducted throughout the year. Fit testing of N95 masks, for instance, became part of officers’ annual fitness testing. Hygiene and hand washing were added to the academy’s existing lesson plans. Online training exercises keep officers fresh on health-related topics throughout the year.
Planning and training for pandemic doesn’t have to be hard or unduly tax a department, but it does need to be done. “Pandemic planning is just good business,” says Bernard. “These plans can be used in any emergency situation or natural disaster because they address how to remain operational and deliver customer services during a crisis.”