The Role of Police in Emergency Response and Disaster Management

The Role of Police in Emergency Response and Disaster Management

The role of a police officer is complicated. While it is understood that the police force functions as an institution to respond to and prevent crime, few understand the exact nature of the different branches of the police force and their roles in the organization. The most obvious misconception is that the police are an isolated force, that works entirely within the world of legal enforcement; they are often seen as separate from other public responders such as firefighters and medical professionals. This is not the case, a fact evident in any emergency scenario where a police contingent will undoubtedly be present.

This begs the question, what is the role of the police force in these scenarios? What is it that is expected of police officers in crises? It is important when pursuing a career in the police force to understand what exactly your roles and responsibilities might be. The following information will make clear the different sorts of work that are expected of you and the challenges you might face when working in the police.

Careers within the police force

Seeking work with the police is a dream career for many. Acting as an enforcer against injustices and being able to catch criminals being a classic appeal to young children thinking about their futures. There are, of course, other jobs in the field, with specializing in criminal law as an attorney becoming increasingly popular. That being said, while adulthood brings a more complex and mature view of the police, and even with recent discussions on the failings and institutional racism of the US police as a whole, a job with the police is still an attractive job for many.

For those looking to pursue a career with the police, the first step will be identifying which branch of the police you would like to work in. There are a variety of roles within the police force, from the traditional beat cop and first responder to the more focused role of a detective, to administrative work, all the way to technicians and scientists who help identify and collect evidence.

That being said, the most popular role in the police continues to be as a law enforcer, and most people will apply the idea of being a police officer, perhaps aiming to be a detective or police sergeant in time.

How to Become a police officer

As it is the starting point for most frontline positions in the police force, there are rarely any requirements regarding qualifications or experience for entry-level positions. That said, due to the rigorous demands of the job, police agencies will have a tough application process that is intended to weed out all but the most physically able candidates.

Requirements to become a police officer can vary by state, but the general essentials are being at least 21 years of age, being a citizen of the US, and possessing a valid driver’s license. While there aren’t always any specific qualifications demanded, you’ll most likely need a high school diploma or equivalent GED to be considered. That said, it has become more popular for police agencies to require at least some credit from a University degree. This requirement can be circumvented where the applicant has previous experience in law enforcement or military service.

The value of a policing degree

Whether it’s a requirement or not, a college degree in policing goes a long way when applying to become a law enforcement officer and could fast-track you onto the route of success amongst the pool of other applicants. A degree in policing not only improves your chances of getting selected as a preliminary candidate but also better prepares you for the rigorous application process.

Emergency response in the police force

Crisis management is one of the most important and overlooked roles of police institutions in the US. First responders are essential in the time-critical conditions of disaster and emergency scenarios. Police are vital in an emergency scenario to ensure the safety and security of those at the scene. The size of the police force also means that in an emergency event, it’s most likely that they will be able to respond and get to the scene faster than other emergency services. This allows them to take stock of the situation, evaluate any threats, and cordon off the area for civilian safety. The first officers on the scene are also in a position to help wherever possible and assist in the evacuation of civilians from the area, and do any other damage control possible without the more specialized aid of other emergency responders.

Preparing for an emergency response or disaster

One of the most daunting aspects of being on the force is facing the possibility of dealing with a serious emergency or disaster. These are some of the most high-pressure situations an officer will ever have to deal with, and as such, it may be difficult to understand what will be expected of you in these scenarios. Of course, you won’t be alone in this. Other officers and other emergency responders will be on hand to help in dealing with the situation, and you’ll have your orders for what to do and when. That said, remember your duty as a police officer. You don’t need explicit orders to act according to your training and protect civilians, identify threats, and otherwise ensure the safety of the area and the people in it.

First responders can use their knowledge of the local community to their advantage. By knowing the area and its residents, and being a symbol of safety, you can be a source of comfort to those at the scene. Knowing the community means that an officer will know whether there will be language barriers or specific challenges this community faces that could impact the response, and they can communicate this accordingly to other incoming emergency responders. In an emergency situation, by knowing the community, and having received specialized training, police officers are in a strong position to respond effectively.

The role of police in disaster response

So, what do the police do once boots are on the ground? This will naturally vary by situation, state, and police agency and even change depending on what officers will be taking part, but there are certain roles entrusted to the police in almost all cases of disaster response.

As mentioned previously, evacuating civilians from the area is a key part of a first responder’s duties in an emergency scenario. Even in the aftermath of a disaster, the area can still be extremely dangerous. In the case of natural disasters, threats such as the structural stability of buildings must be considered. As such, evacuating the area and securing dangerous locations is an essential part of police procedure.

 The police are also better suited to search and rescue procedures than other emergency response teams, having better access to the means to identify and track missing persons and generally having a more intimate knowledge of the community. As such, once immediate evacuations have finished and missing persons start getting identified, it often falls on law enforcement to track them down and retrieve them. This includes going door-to-door and checking in on the residents of a disaster zone to make sure absolutely no one is unaccounted for in its wake, and if they are, to plan accordingly and quickly take action to find them.

Leading emergency and disaster response in the police

While the regular officer sets the standard for the police force, and first responders are the more glamorized position in the police institution, what ultimately controls the response to disasters and emergencies are positioned higher up the chain.

While many people join the police force wanting to be on the frontline, it becomes inevitable with age and experience that people will eventually take on roles of seniority in the force, including managerial and administrative positions. A police commissioner is an example of a senior role, however, even captains and sergeants have a lot of responsibility when it comes to planning and adapting quickly and effectively to serious disasters and emergencies.

Getting a leadership position in the police

Plenty of people will aspire to reach positions of seniority within the police, but what is the best way for an aspiring officer to get to these positions? There are many routes, but generally, you’ll have to be selected for them based on your personal traits and past performance. Showing your gift for leadership, especially in crisis scenarios such as disasters will help, however, that’s not always possible or easy.

Instead, many officers consider pursuing a degree in policing, which allows them to get ahead of their peers and learn in-depth about law enforcement as an institution, as well as what is required of those in leadership roles and equipping its students with the tools to demonstrate that they have what it takes to succeed in them. It can be difficult to find the right place to pursue this degree alongside your role as an officer, but the Laurier Bachelor of Policing course by Wilfrid Laurier University provides a great way for officers currently in the force to get the education they need to further their career, fully online, with teaching from professionals in the industry.

Leadership in crisis management

Those in leadership roles have a greater responsibility when it comes to emergency or disaster scenarios. Leaders must direct the flow of resources, and personnel, and communicate orders to ensure an effective response.

They have to do this immediately, without hesitation, while knowing exactly what to do even when all the information may not yet be available. As the police are more often than not the first responders to a scene and are relied upon for safety, these decisions cannot be half measures. The level of preparedness and composure must be second to none, with senior ranks responding immediately to direct lower-ranked personnel and making sure everything is dealt with effectively. Those at the highest level must manage resources, ensuring enough officers respond to an emergency, while keeping enough back for the monumental list of other tasks that the police deal with on a daily basis. In short, police leaders need to perfectly manage those under them in disasters, and must remain confident and calm even in the bleakest of circumstances. As a result, it’s not a job for the faint of heart.

That said, becoming a police officer and attending to disasters and emergencies is some of the most fulfilling work that one can do. It takes bravery, compassion, patience, and a strong sense of justice. It is work that saves lives. To a member of law enforcement, crisis response isn’t just a job, it’s a duty that they are privileged to undertake, just as we are privileged to have them.