Recently, I was speaking with a municipal official regarding their municipalities’ preparation for a large event. When asked how they began the planning process, their response was to just dust off the last big event they had and then start from there. Unfortunately, the last event that they had was over 50 years ago so this idealism was not going to work today. These made me think what we as police commanders when faced with disaster response or major incident planning. We often discount this process for it is so infrequent and then hope for positive results. “Just do what we used to do” is what the old timers will tell you. However, if the truth were known, there is no such thing as a routine storm or emergency response in this day and age. I have heard repeatedly to just do what we did during the last great storm of whenever. Every locality has some historic catastrophic benchmark to measure the pending doom up against. A starting question is who is on the job that was there when this happened? I will be the first to tell you that historical management and responses may no longer be valid today. These historical benchmarks do serve as a foundation of but there are some points to consider.
Let’s review the historical benchmark methodology, what was the last big one you had? If this is over ten years ago, then this might as well be folklore. So much has changed in our responses within this generation of first responders. First and foremost the majority of those who are still on the job that can recall this incident were probably patrol officers and now have achieved rank but never darkened the doorway of the command center. Most of the last big one’s command staff is retired. Secondly to draw on historical concepts regarding the application of Unified Command and NIMS (National Incident Management Systems) needs to be constantly updated and trained on. There are several updates in how we respond to manmade and natural disasters. To find out more go to https://training.fema.gov/IS. Now most every police officer has survived several of the Incident Command System (ICS) classes. But do we really practice them or utilized them in our responses? Sadly most line officers sat in the classes, absorbed, tested and flushed the knowledge after the test. It was required and now I have punched my training dance card. Trust me, there is vast amount of application of the ICS/NIMS systems that we can apply and use every day. It is up to the command staff to embrace this methodology and apply it. Additionally this is much akin to learning a new language, don’t practice it, you lose it.
Irregular storms and natural disasters seem to be the norm now of days. If you review the most recent natural disasters that have affected our country, these were not the basic hurricane 101 but often compound and complex disasters. Often responders require dealing with the incidents within the great incident. Now this does provide for learning curves for the future but there have been several responses where the past practices did not last too long. Therefore, we must have plans for escalating and evolving contingencies. Examples, when Hurricane Floyd (1999) turned up theSoutheastCoast, the evacuees fromFloridahad moved to the north (as planned then dictated) toGeorgia. The local evacuees were misplaced due to Floridians and so they were sent north intoSouth Carolina, where the path of Floyd continued. The primary and secondary evacuation points were filled and in harms’ way.
Another learning point from Hurricane Floyd was the dilemma of sheltering companion animals. With many animals lost, pet owners refusing to evacuate due to non pet friendly shelters now shelter planners must consider methods of sheltering companion animals.
HurricaneSandy(2012) had devastating effects on infrastructure and power grids; how dare a major storm land on very densely populated urban areas! The restoration still continues.
The point is there is never a boiler plate response to a cookie cutter disaster; this is pie in the sky thinking. As a commander you are going to have to be ready to respond, training and preparation are the keys to your success. Of course review your old disasters for the historical content however it is not gospel. As the ‘big one’ slips into the long term memory so does your mitigation efforts, people move back into the low lying areas. Compare your population and service areas from then until now, probably larger and more complex. As your roadways have changed so does the response and evacuation plans.
Training and I mean more than classroom. Have you had training with meaningful exercises and tabletop scenarios that test the mettle of your municipality’s staff? One thing that I have always insisted on is give your staff winnable scenarios. Far too often the majority of these things are no win situations and nearly the zombie apocalypse with Godzilla coming down to the police station. Make them real world difficult with cascading events and increase the level of intensity as the training evolves, just keep king sized lizards out of it.
If you are fortunate enough to have regional all hazards task forces, bring them to the table for training and evaluation. This can be free and most Homeland Security Grant programs to support local law enforcement initiates are shirking for most of the world. However if you live in or near, larger municipal areas, check to see if you are in an urban area security initiative (UASI) which affords more support. The key is to prepare now before the storm clouds gather or the grid fails. The quality statement is that the local emergency responders (you and I) are going to be the only ones dealing with this from start to up to 48 hours before any additional support from the state arrives and the federals, which could be 96 hours. Today’s leaders must do more than deal with budgets, criminality and traffic woes. We are the true first line of defense when the really bad day comes to town, train hard now and excel when faced with it.