The NOPD's hurricane plan has been revamped as well. "The new one is more robust and detailed with simple things like any officers requesting leave during hurricane season must provide all their contact numbers and information," Narcisse points out. "The new plan is about an inch thick and is detailed on what to do, in stages, when the storm is so many hours away."
The plan calls for a new command structure during storms or other natural disasters, so everyone knows what to do, who goes where and when. Every commander is responsible to train his command in the plan.
"We've learned from the past and incorporated things we wouldn't have considered before, like when an officer's family should be evacuated," he says. "We've also taken advantage of current technology and will rely on pagers, text messaging, personal data assistants and e-mails to communicate. It was interesting during Katrina that cell phones only worked intermittently, but text messages went through well. All the officers carry some personal type of communication device, and we'll use them."
Advice for other departments
Narcisse shares several pieces of advice the NOPD has learned the hard way:
- Have a plan for your department -- "The natural disaster plan shouldn't expect help and resources from others," he says. "You want to take care of your department and officers without counting on state and federal agencies. You want to work in concert with them, but if our history proves true for others, you can't rely on them wholeheartedly. Have your own ice, water and MREs (rations) staged. Plan with 'expect the unexpected' thinking."
He admits that like others, his department couldn't visualize a storm of such magnitude, with the amount of rain and levee failures. "We weren't prepared, but if you have a thorough plan, you can be," Narcisse notes. "Our plan even covers other disasters and realizes that the next hurricane might not cause such a water problem, but it may bring powerful winds."
- Finish your interoperability plan -- Since 9/11, police departments have been encouraged to have such a plan, but many have dragged their feet. "Finish it," he advises. "You really need to communicate with other city and regional agencies. We found it would have been great to reach the department of public works, which had the equipment to move down trees and limbs, for example. It was a problem for us to talk with the fire department and other agencies -- don't let that happen to you."
- Encourage your citizens to have a family plan -- Keep telling your citizens to prepare for disasters with canned food, medicines and clean water. "The public needs to understand the importance of following their leaders' evacuation orders and have a family plan (including pets) of what to do in an emergency," Narcisse says. "First responders can't reach everyone who stays behind in a timely manner. Let people know the importance of going when asked and planning what they'll take and who they might take along, like Grandma or the elderly neighbors."
- Plan for pets -- Because some New Orleans citizens remained in their homes to be with pets and died as a result, the city has made sure shelters and hotels will accept evacuees and their animals. "Talk with your municipal, county and state leaders to create a plan for pet owners," he suggests. "You can even give us a call to see how we did this."
He sums up his advice, "When we pulled the city back after the storm, we didn't have much direction," Narcisse recalls. "We were writing the book, day by day because no city in the United States had faced such a storm with so much damage and 80 percent of the city flooded for weeks. To avoid this happening to your police department and citizens -- Plan, Plan, Plan!"
Kay Falk is an independent writer with more than 18 years of experience in writing for trade publications. She can be contacted at (920) 563-1511.