Family First In Disasters

I couldn't believe it's been twenty years since the Rodney King Incident. Seeing him back in the media spot-light this past month brought back memories of the chase, arrest, criminal charges against the LAPD officers involved, the trial, verdict and of course, the riots.

Home Turf

A professional acquaintance of mine was the security director for a major corporation that was headquartered in Los Angeles when the rioting kicked off. He had been a policeman in the Midwest during the turbulent 1960s and was all too familiar with civil unrest, but this time he was faced with the prospect of having to defend a corporate headquarters and its employees rather than standing on the skirmish line as a cop. His experience as a street cop in an urban setting during the rioting that plagued much of the nation during the turbulent '60s taught him that you have to take care of your own before you can protect society.

In light of this knowledge, he immediately implemented safety measures to protect his security staff, company employees, and their families. He knew that in order for the company to get back up and running as a soon as possible, its people needed to be provided for so they were not in crisis along with the community; then, as soon as normalcy began to appear, they could go back to work quickly. One of the strategies involved stockpiling food, water, bedding, medical supplies and other necessities so that the employees and their families could live together at the plant for a week, if not longer. The corporate leaders allowed this to happen and at the same time they reaped the benefits. The security staff defended the site with zeal, not because it was their job, but because their family members were inside.

Fast forward to this past week; I was struck in awe when I saw a story by CNN about a Japanese fireman who rushed to the scene of the tsunami and earthquake zone to do his duty, only to find that his family perished when he returned home several days later. He said knowing what he knew now he would have never gone to work. Is it just me or is everyone else noticing that huge catastrophes seem to occur now more than at any other time in recent, recorded, history?

Our nation certainly is not immune from the tragedy that struck Japan and New Zealand in recent months. Hurricane Katrina was only five years ago. Prior to Katrina, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommended that survival essentials should be stockpiled by the average family so that they could shelter-in-place for a minimum of three days. FEMA, on their website, states that Local officials and relief workers will be on the scene after a disaster, but they cannot reach everyone immediately. You could get help in hours, or it might take days.

It can be more like weeks and if you are concerned about housing, then it could be years.

Cops know that social order is the first to go when a critical incident occurs, quickly followed by food, water shortages, and power failures. As first responders our families are not immune from the effects of this. When we are at the scene, or headed there, our families are left to fend for themselves until we come back. If the disaster is severe enough and the duration continuing, you have a choice; stay at work and hope your husband, or wife and children can manage or you go home and ensure their safety. First responders should never have to make that choice. Small preparatory steps taken now can help ensure that first responders can be deployed for extended periods of time saving lives instead of fearing for the survival of their own children and spouses.

Expand What You Have

In our current budget crunch era there are steps that can be taken now that cost little to nothing to begin preparation.

First, enact a policy and follow up with a procedure geared toward identifying who and how many of your personnel, with their extensions, can be cared for in the short-term. Secondly, survey your government facilities to determine what areas can be used for emergency housing needs if the big one hits. Third, consider what resources your agency currently has in terms of power generation (most PDs already have a back-up generator), fuel depot, toiletries, bedding materials, etc. Over time budget what you need or build up on supplies that already exist. Finally, seek outside assistance from your local emergency management folks, state level EMA, or FEMA regarding planning measures and resource allocation. In many cases discontinued military surplus is available to governmental units for free. Usually police agencies seek assault rifles or armored vehicles for their patrol units or SWAT teams, but have you ever thought of cots, water buffalos, or tents?

Doing Nothing

Sometimes the worst thing we can do is nothing at all. First Responders are the core of our National Response Plan when it comes to disasters, either man-made or by nature. Local leaders will always bear the brunt of an incident simply because it is and always will be a local problem. Before our local police and fire personnel can take care of others, their families need to be taken care of first.