In order to better prepare the officer and their agency for critical incidents that result in officers’ extended absences from home, the National Fraternal Order of Police Foundation has developed a model policy for local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to use when developing a law enforcement family readiness plan (FRP). An FRP will provide officers with peace of mind, knowing that their family is informed and accepting of the role they must perform during critical incidents. As a result, the FRP will also improve the readiness, morale and effectiveness of the law enforcement officer and their agency as a whole.
The chief objective of the FRP is to ensure that the agency can rely on all of its assets and that every officer will be able to report for extended emergency duty without conflicting obligations to family or dependents.
Elements of the Family Readiness Plan
To ensure that the policy objective is met, the FRP must be able to provide all law enforcement officers with appropriate information and training to prepare their family members for response to a critical incident. The FRP could convey this information and training, when appropriate, feasible or necessary, through the following channels:
- Law enforcement agency
- Agency officers
- An organization representing the officers or officer families
- Other community groups
The scenarios anticipated by the policy should be “all hazard” events (i.e., natural and human-made disasters) and, at minimum, address the following emergency situations:
- Terrorist attack on a piece of critical infrastructure
- Pandemic or mass quarantine event
- Natural disaster or mass evacuation (pre- or post-incident)
Any of these events may result in a mix of public safety responses. But events that involve mass quarantines, evacuations or a combination thereof, which also affect the families of law enforcement officers, are the primary concern of this policy. Agency policy should identify and work with officers, who, in turn, should be expected to work with their families to assure a high level of preparedness for the types of critical incidents that the agency may face. Families that are equipped to handle emergency situations outlined in the policy will produce officers who can wholly devote themselves to their assigned duties during such emergency situations.
Responsibilities of the Agency
The existence of a policy itself represents an agency’s acknowledgement of the conflict officers may experience during a disaster-type situation or other crisis event. But simply recognizing the conflict is not enough. Within a model policy, agencies have a responsibility to:
- Acknowledge the real conflict between an officer’s sworn duty to report to their agency and to protect the public and an officer’s personal obligation to see to the safety of their family
- Identify likely disasters and other critical incidents and craft an employee-based response that recognizes the needs for responding to such incidents
- Develop response scenarios for evacuations, quarantines and a loss of public safety communications
- Conduct trainings on responding to critical incidents
- Share information about response scenarios and policies with law enforcement officers and other public safety assets
- Require law enforcement officers to be trained in family preparedness planning
- Require law enforcement officers to acknowledge receipt of information and materials developed to better educate families about preparedness
- Adopt emergency deployment policies that accommodate law enforcement officers who are single parents, are the primary or secondary caretaker of dependent children or adults, or are married to a public safety officer who may also be expected to respond to a crisis event
- Establish procedures for notifying families in the event of an evacuation or quarantine
- If feasible, identify an evacuation point for law enforcement families to “check in” prior to leaving the area
- If feasible, use the agency or other public assets to evacuate law enforcement families
- If feasible, identify a “shelter-in-place” facility for law enforcement families to use through the duration of a quarantine (this may involve using agency or other public assets to shelter law enforcement families)
- If feasible, establish a communication “hotline” or website to provide information to law enforcement officers and their families about the whereabouts of their loved ones in the event of an interruption in communications
The law enforcement agency should devise its protocols as its own resources permit. In the event of a critical incident, all agency resources should be directed to responding and ensuring the safety of the public as a whole.
Examples of FRP Provisions
- The agency, agency volunteer, agency organization or employee organization could identify a high school or similarly situated site for families to assemble prior to an evacuation, allowing law enforcement families that are leaving the area to ride-share (reducing road traffic). If feasible, an emergency or family volunteer can track families that have checked in with their evacuation plans; plans that will be provided to the officer at a later time.
- The agency, agency volunteer, agency organization or employee organization could identify a high school, local hotel or similarly situated venue for accommodating law enforcement families if a “shelter-in-place” order is issued.
- An agency, agency volunteer, agency organization or employee organization could use a telephone tree, website email, email listserv, Facebook, Twitter or other social networking site that is restricted to the immediate families of law enforcement officers. Such a tool could be employed by the agency to provide and share information in the event of a loss of communication between the officer and their family.
Expectations and Responsibilities of the Officer
The officers employed by the law enforcement agency should be responsible for adhering to all policy requirements. In addition they should be expected to, without specific direction by the agency or any adopted policy, take normal, common-sense actions to prepare their family for any critical incident, but especially one that may require extended shift work and long absences from home. To this end, the officer is responsible for/expected to:
- Acknowledge their sworn duty to respond to lawful orders and report to their agency during a critical incident regardless of personal circumstances
- Acknowledge receipt of information and materials provided by the agency to better educate the officer and their family about preparedness
- Share information about the agency’s response policies for disasters and other crisis events with their family – especially events involving evacuation, quarantines and a loss of public safety communications
- Attend information or training sessions on family preparedness planning
- See to their family’s personal preparedness prior to, during and in the aftermath of a disaster and other types of crisis events
- Ensure that their family is aware and will adhere to public safety directives involving voluntary or mandatory evacuations, quarantines or similar protocols in advance of, during or in the aftermath of a critical incident
- Ensure that their family is aware of and will adhere to follow evacuation protocols, shelter-in-place plans or non-public communication strategies for the duration of the public safety response
Expectations of the Officer’s Family
The families of law enforcement officers cannot be compelled to adhere to any policy; however, a policy of this nature will not succeed unless the agency can reasonably expect certain actions of the families. Expectations of families are that they will:
- Acknowledge the nature of the officer’s employment and their sworn duty to report to their agency during a disaster or other crisis event regardless of personal circumstances
- Acknowledge that family preparedness is the responsibility of each individual family and adult family member
- Review information about the law enforcement agency’s response policies for critical incidents, especially scenarios involving evacuation, quarantines and a loss of public safety communications
- Attend information or training sessions on family preparedness planning when available
- Develop and follow a preparedness plan prior to, during and in the aftermath of a disaster or other crisis event requiring long absences from home
- Adhere to public safety directives as they relate to voluntary or mandatory evacuations, quarantines or similar protocols in advance of, during or in the aftermath of a disaster or other crisis event
- Follow evacuation protocols, shelter-in-place plans or non-public communication strategies for the duration of the incident and incident response
Because a model policy seeks to produce reasonably effective FRPs for individual officer families, it should anticipate likely disasters and certain emergency events. Moreover, it should specify the channels through which information could and will be shared, including those within the law enforcement agency as well as those within the larger community. Lastly, an agency policy should specify the requirements for agencies and officers, and the expectations for families before, during and following the crisis events. A clearly worded and well-communicated policy and FRPs are essential to the conduct of effective public safety during times of disaster, evacuation and other major crisis events.