As Communities Recover from Disaster, Law Enforcement Plays Critical Role
By Richard Holloway, J.D.
With the recent wildfires in Colorado and across the country still fresh in our minds and in light of the latest destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy in the northeastern portion of the United States, we are ever more aware of the power and unpredictability of natural disasters. As our nation begins to heal and process this recent tragedy, our faculty leaders will offer their insights on disaster preparedness.
The role of law enforcement has never solely been about enforcing the laws. The phrase “Serve and Protect” goes beyond catching bad guys. America’s history has shown us that the responsibilities of first responders during a disaster, whether natural or manmade, are critical to a community’s effective recovery. After the dust settles and the waters recede, natural disasters leave more than destruction and debris in their wake. Lives are changed and help is needed to help residents get as close as possible to a new normal. Law enforcement officers play an important role in this recovery process for a community.
Here are two often overlooked considerations for first-responders when helping a community to recover.
New Roles to Play
Once the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster has passed, there are often long term issues that may remain. Changes in the services needed by a particular area are common. As the population returns to an evacuated area, for instance, the law enforcement needs of the community may be forever changed. Residents may be homeless and in search of shelter and food. Damaged businesses may be left unprotected and threatened by looters. Law enforcement agencies must be flexible in adjusting to life after a disaster. Officers may find themselves playing a different role than the one they played before the event.
An often overlooked consideration in disasters is the importance of accounting for the emotional needs of our first responders. In the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster, law enforcement officers are working extremely long hours, many going for days without significant sleep or downtime. Many have little time to focus on their own families and loved ones. A comprehensive disaster plan must take into account the well-being of those providing critical care to the community in order to ensure the best service to its citizens.
What other over-looked challenges might law enforcement officers face as they serve and protect their communities in the aftermath of a disaster?
Image credit: People/Mike Segar