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Police Family Distraction Syndrome

Over the years I have been deployed across the country to major disasters as a police chaplain. During this period of time I have had the opportunity to observe the response of law enforcement officers during times of crisis. The officers who perform the best, who stay mentally sharp and respond at their best, are those officers who have prepared their families ahead of time to be able to survive during disasters.

It’s natural for us to be concerned about our families. But the degree of worry and distraction is directly proportional to the amount of planning we have done. Those who have failed to prepare can fall prey to what I have termed Police Family Distraction Syndrome. It means just what it says law enforcement officers can easily become distracted from their jobs because of their families. To be sure we are always going to harbor some degree of anxiety about our families weathering the storm while we are working in the middle of it. However, as officers if we prepare ahead of time for disasters there is less likely a chance we will be distracted to the point of being a danger to ourselves or someone else.

The literature tells us no matter how much government and private industry promote disaster preparedness the majority of Americans will fail to make even basic preparations. Perhaps it’s the osteridge story. The bird sticks his head in the sand to keep from seeing the impending threats around them. Maybe many Americans believe if they ignore disaster preparedness they won’t experience a disaster. We know that isn't true. The fact is it’s simple to prepare for a disaster and not expensive. Law enforcement officers and civilians alike must make up their minds they are going to do something to prepare.

The first thing our family is going to need is water. Experts say we need a gallon of water per day per person in our household for a minimum of 3 days. That’s the expected time it would take for outside assistance to arrive. A better plan is to store enough water for a week. Another way to do this is when there is a severe weather watch fill your bathtub with water. There are some commercial bladders available for tubs but aren’t really necessary. Collapsible 5-gallon jugs are also commercially available and aren’t expensive.

Food is important but not as urgent as water. We can only live without water for a few days. When choosing food, pick non perishable food that does not need to be prepared. Canned food is great but remember to have a manually operated can opener on hand.

First aid supplies and medications are next. Every family needs a first aid kit to treat cuts, scrapes and burns. Additionally if family members take medications make sure the kit contains 3-7 days of medication for the person.

A trip to the hardware store is next. Plenty of flashlights and lots of batteries are important to have (remember not to rotate the batteries in the lights so they don’t break down and lead, ruining the light). Additionally you need a portable AM/FM radio for news and a NOAA All Hazards radio for weather and other hazardous warnings. Make sure you have plenty of spare batteries for these radios or purchase a “hand crank” model that has an internal rechargeable battery fed by the hand crank.

If you must shelter in place because of a biological hazard you should have plenty of plastic sheeting and duct tape to be able to seal outside air from getting in the house by covering windows, doors and vents.

Having a plan is a must. In disasters cell phone service is often down or overloaded. The experts tell us if you can’t get a voice call through a text message may work. Text takes less band width and often will work when voice won’t.

Have a place for family members to meet if they are not at home. Additionally have an out of state friend or relative act as a check in point. If family members can’t reach each other this is the person to check in with. Each family member should call to report where they are, if separated. Other family members can check it to find out if others are safe.

By the way, write down phone numbers. On cell phone we punch a name and never think about the number. Have an important call list.

Families should also have a “go bag” with smaller amounts of items stored at home so if they must leave they will have supplies. It is also a good idea to keep a “go bag” in the car in case you are caught away from home.

While nothing will totally alleviate concern about our loved ones, by being prepared and knowing they can survive 3-7 days will remove a lot of anxiety. Frequently in disasters officers must stay on duty for extended periods of time without going home and if phones are down with out checking in. Knowing your family is prepared is extremely helpful.

It is also important for your family to be spiritually prepared. Bibles and other religious literature from your faith tradition will prove helpful in times of need.


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About The Author:

Chaplain Dave Fair is a former Board Member of the International Conference of Police Chaplains, where he served as Chair of the Education Committee. He is Chaplain Emeritus of the Brownwood (TX) Police Department. Fair is a member of the Board of Scientific and Professional Advisors of the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress, and has written numerous articles on Chaplaincy and Traumatic Stress. Chaplain Fair is President of the Police Crisis Coalition and President and CEO of Homeland Crisis Institute. A licensed peace officer, Chaplain Fair holds a Ph.D. in Pastoral Counseling and Psychology from Bethel Bible College and Seminary, and a doctorate in Clinical Christian Counseling from Central Christian University. Dr. Fair is a member of the Curriculum Committee of the American Board of Certification in Homeland Security, as well as a member of the Commission on Forensic Education.