How many times have you listened to the radio and heard a young Sergeant or field commander make a frantic request - “send me everything you got”? Obviously, the anxious person probably does not know what assets are available or how to request them. Most of our upcoming sergeants and commanders very adept in dealing with criminality and other routine scenes of chaos such as traffic accidents or public unrest. But as always, law enforcement gets invited to the dark sky days of life. For example- tornadoes, extreme weather-related events, hazardous materials incidents, and fires. Even though we may not be the lead on this, it's always going to be a cop to be the first one invited to the dance.
I think it is instrumental that we train our upcoming staff members and training them with an understanding of what assets are available and what “things” (resources) can be brought to incident. I have always believed that the first few critical moments are the most important. I was taught how you respond in the first 30 minutes of a critical incident often writes the script for the rest of the movie. I do not want this movie to be a horror theme but a motivational one.
Often when we start the promotional processes, we often select those who are good with the normal fundamental police tasks and the supervision of the staff there in. And they are selected because of the knowledge, skills, and abilities that they possess within those realms. But we do not stay within the realms all the time. Law enforcement is always invited to the dark sky day. My recommendation would be to set up trainings with your fire service, emergency medical service and your Emergency Management services. These can at first begin with executive presentations on what is available to you immediately. Now of course there are regional assets that come into play. Your city or county may request a regional incident management team (IMT) or assistance from regional fusion centers for examples. What do they bring to the table? An IMT lead can explain how they do not run the incident but help you manage the incident.
Why is it important for someone to understand they have a building collapse team or trench team or mass casualty team available to them? Their confidence in the process, which allows them to focus! Upon arriving on the scene of a cascading event, removing some of the burdens of planning off the incident commanders’ shoulders will create focus on the main event. It is important for them to grasp and evaluate what they are observing. Here they can assure the first responders in will possess those special skillsets and equipment are coming. This is giving them confidence and calm to know they are going to be able to face this. How do we go about this? I would strongly recommend an executive meeting to ensure that all memorandums of understanding (MOU) and mutual aid agreements between all concerned are updated. The next logical step would be presentations to shift commanders within all of emergency services. Next within quarterly trainings, exchanges and include walk-throughs to see the specialized equipment. Why? Some equipment may in fact require a safety buffer around them. Some of these operations require a safety perimeter or working zone. The goal here is to that I prevent some inquisitive cop from wandering into a dangerous zone. We do not want us to become the incident within the incident.
There's also a credibility factor to this as well. Should your field commander suddenly be assigned to become the public information officer (PIO) they can do so with confidence. You will get media requests on an evolving incident. Face it, it is newsworthy and may have public safety implications. They can intelligently speak with assurance to the media on what is evolving, and the processes involved. The last thing you need is unprepared spokesperson going on a live media broadcast who is not capable to explain this event without creating doubt or panic. Uneducated and cavalier statements surrounding a crisis are certain to create panic and lowering of the public’s confidence in your response. The goal of the public information here is to assure the community not to panic that the professionals are here and they are well equipped and know what to do.
This seems to add up to never ending training, which is true. When you truly simplify the job description of a law enforcement officer it all falls into place. If you ask me, “what is the best job description of a cop”? It is simply put as a “human service provider.” End of story, done. There will never be an app on a smartphone or computer that can handle what our first responding officers do, nor should there ever be. When there is a bad event (criminal, accidental or natural occurring) it still takes a police officer to respond and provide service to the victims and public. Same with fire and EMS, no app is going to put out a fire raging in your home or delivery a baby; so, the job description covers emergency services as well.
Matters not if you are in a small, rural setting or a larger metropolitan area, it befits us to know and fully understand the greater picture of responding to all that could confront us on any given day. Can we predict everything - No. But we do not have to write a script or operational plan for everything as many events interlace with each other and apply across the response spectrum. As chiefs and sheriffs, we need to ensure the success of our staff when faced with the perils of the job. Nobody said this was going to be a simple list and was going to be easy. Preparation but not paranoia is key here, now go and get ready for nobody can predict the next call nor major event.
About the Author
William L. "Bill" Harvey is a U.S. Army Military Police Corps veteran. He has a BA in criminology from St. Leo University and is a graduate of the Southern Police Institute of the University of Louisville (103rd AOC). Harvey served for over 23 years with the Savannah (GA) Police Department in field operations, investigations and completed his career as the director of training. Served as the chief of police of the Lebanon City Police Dept (PA) for over seven years and then ten years as Chief of Police for the Ephrata Police Dept (PA). He continues to publish for professional periodicals and train. He is on the advisory board of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association.