Law Enforcements Role in Emergency Management Term Paper

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Law Enforcement

The Role of Law Enforcement in Emergency Management Situations

Without question, emergency management situations -- such as the September 11th terrorist attacks, the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina, or more typical emergencies like building fires -- will require law enforcement agencies to take an active role in restoring order and maintaining normalcy. Of course, this does not even take into account the significant role that law enforcement agencies will play in preventing these kinds of disasters in the first place, when at all possible. But developing a clear understanding of the appropriate role and scope of law enforcement's involvement in an emergency management situation can be difficult at best. Conflicts of interest between other agencies -- such as emergency medical services or firefighters -- can complicate even the best-developed policies.

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For instance, three years after the September 11th terrorist attacks on New York City, Rashbaum and O'Donnel (2004) reported that there was still a lack of clear guidelines over which agencies should take charge in any developing emergency management situation. Disputes between the police, fire departments, and the Office of Emergency Management in New York City were significant and spoke to an undercurrent of distrust and lack of communication between these seemingly complementary agencies. The police departments in New York City obviously see their role in emergency management as the most crucial and believe that they should be given charge of any emergency management situation, especially one that involves terrorism.

TOPIC: Term Paper on Law Enforcements Role in Emergency Management Assignment

Unfortunately, it is unclear the degree to which this assessment is entirely correct. Without question, the role that law enforcement agencies -- like the New York City Police Department -- play in emergency management situations is crucial and must be given due consideration. The successful remediation of an emergency management situation, though, requires the coordination of all available resources during the incident to most effectively deal with the situation as it unfolds but also during its aftermath and recovery phase. Various groups have defined emergency management in various ways; a particularly useful definition for this discussion can be drawn from the policy documents of the Randolph Township Police Department (n.d.) in New Jersey. That law enforcement agency characterizes four distinct phases of emergency management:

Mitigation: in which a hazard or threat is eliminated or reduced before it can become a significant danger

Preparedness: in which actions are taken in preparation, such as training and education, to facilitate faster responses and better recovery methods

Response: in which the law enforcement agency actually performs the actions that will save lives and prevent property damage

Recovery: in which efforts are made to return the affected communities to a greater degree of normalcy

The purpose of this study is present an overview of some of the important literature on the subject of law enforcement's role in an emergency situation. Because the role that law enforcement plays in these types of situations can be so varied, it is important from a policy perspective to consider the relevant analysis of the subject in order to develop a clearer grasp of what effective roles law enforcement agencies can play in an emergency management situation. This examination should reveal what, if any, consensus exists on the matter of the role that law enforcement agencies should take in an emergency management situation.

Literature Review

The existing literature on the question of law enforcement's role in emergency management is quite varied. This can be attributed in large part to the reality that emergency management situations can be incredibly varied and present demands to law enforcement agencies that are quite different from one incident to the next. For instance, the pressures placed on law enforcement agencies during the mitigation of a terrorist attack will be quite different from said agency's responses to a natural disaster, to a HAZMAT incident, or to a public health emergency. Despite these differences in circumstances, common themes emerge throughout the literature that suggests that law enforcement's role will be an extension of its traditional roles in protecting life and property in non-emergency management situations. One of the secondary persistent themes that appears in the literature on the subject is the lack of clear and effective lines of communication during an emergency management situation. The breakdown in communication has been identified both within law enforcement agencies but, perhaps more troublingly, between emergency response agencies such as EMS and firefighters. Reconciling these communication and interoperability issues is one of the major challenges for policymakers in defining the future of law enforcement's role in emergency management.

Many of the emergency management situations that law enforcement will be faced with are those that have traditionally been the domain of law enforcement agencies. For example, a clearly defined role of law enforcement has always been to manage evacuation orders when an emergency situation dictates such a response. Evacuations can occur with some warning -- such as during an impending hurricane or winter storm -- or can occur more suddenly -- such as following a major HAZMAT incident. Even under the best of conditions, fulfilling this role can be difficult (Cloud et al., 2006). Coordination between the multiple emergency agencies that will undoubtedly be involved in any incident large enough to warrant an evacuation is difficult, especially when the pressing issue of fulfilling the evacuation order in a timely and organized matter still looms. In addition to coordinating their own efforts in these kinds of situations, law enforcement agencies must all deal with public groups, elected officials, firefighters, medical personnel, and others. In an effort to get people moving out of an area without causing panic or chaos, establishing clear lines of communication between all of these interested parties will continue to be a challenge (Cloud et al., 2006). But developing strong ties and communication for interoperability between these groups is a major new developing role for law enforcement that has been highlighted by recent failures in emergency management situations.

Consider the unfortunate results of a lack of agency interoperability during the September 11th terrorist attacks in New York City. Communication between police and fire departments was spotty or nonexistent in the best of cases. Thus, when it became clear that the WTC towers were in danger of imminent collapse, police officers were given instructions to leave the area but firefighters were not. As a result, hundreds more firefighters than police officers died when the towers collapsed (Mountjoy, 2003; Rashbaum and O'Donnell, 2004). It is incredibly unfortunate that this lesson had to be learned at the cost of so many lives. Nonetheless, it highlights the important fact that during an emergency situation, one of the roles that law enforcement agencies must perform is establishing clear and open lines of communication internally and also with other emergency personnel operating in the area.

One of the clear ways that law enforcement agencies can improve this facet of their role in emergency management is through upgrades and enhancements to dispatchers (Robb, 2006). Police dispatchers, in particular, exist to coordinate existing resources and manpower and distribute it efficient ways during any situation that involves law enforcement personnel. During an emergency situation, the role of dispatchers becomes even more important because more resources will be required to mediate the situation and the dispatch center will have to deal with a greater influx of concern and panic from the public. Clear guidelines for law enforcement dispatchers need to be developed prior to an emergency situation so that the dispatch center is not overwhelmed during an emergency. Additionally, provisions must be made to coordinate resources and information not only within the law enforcement agency but also between emergency agencies that might also be operating during an emergency. The higher loss of lives of firefighters during the September 11th terrorist attacks indicates that such a tragedy could have been reduced had information-sharing between police and firefighters been more open and thorough.

Another type of emergency situation in which open lines of communication would be especially crucial is a natural disaster, in which rapidly changing conditions could actually affect the safety of law enforcement personnel during their efforts to protect the public from danger. The Indian Ocean tsunamis that struck during the Christmas season of 2004 have highlighted a new kind of natural disaster threat, particularly for coastal regions in the U.S. along fault lines (Collins, 2005). The coast of California is one region that could be particularly susceptible to this kind of rare, though devastating, disaster. One of the issues at hand for law enforcement is that a tsunami would first manifest as an earthquake, to law enforcement would immediately respond in order to safeguard lives and cordon off danger zones. However, if that earthquake occurred just off the coast, it could result in a tsunami striking the entire region, often within minutes of the first tremors (Collins, 2005). Without rapid and effective communication about the nature of the natural disaster and the potential for changing conditions, law enforcement personnel could quickly find themselves in a compromised position. Their efforts to protect and serve could be severely truncated… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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