As Hurricane Florence bears down on the Carolinas – unquestionably the greatest storm threat to the Eastern Seaboard thus far in the 2018 Atlantic Hurricane Season – law enforcement agencies like the Richland County Sheriff’s Department (RCSD) in South Carolina are prepared for any and all eventualities. And we’ve already established our command post here in central South Carolina even though, as of this writing, Florence is still 1,000-plus miles away from the S.C. coastline.
Fact is, our capabilities in 2018 transcend traditional police lanes.
For hundreds of years, law enforcement agencies have maintained a cultural distance from the responsibilities of disaster preparedness – whether natural or man-made disasters – and response. Those things have been traditionally deemed the purview of firefighters, medical personnel, agencies like the Red Cross, weather forecasters, engineers and, to a degree, the military. Granted, law enforcement personnel have always had important roles to play in disaster response, but those roles have primarily been limited to keeping the peace, protecting lives and property, and otherwise enforcing the law.
That all changed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. On that day and during that series of asymmetrical events, everyone was doing their jobs and helping manage and shoulder some of the responsibilities of others. The nation was rocked on its heels. Everyone was bracing for the next wave of attacks. All were attempting to mitigate the loss of lives and damage to property. The overlapping responsibilities and shared knowledge were not only overwhelming, but immediately recognizable as necessary.
That day forever changed the culture of policing and public safety – locally, statewide, and nationally.
Perhaps the most important lesson learned for law enforcement coming out of 9/11 was that there must be dramatically improved, seamless, interagency communication. During the attacks and in the immediate aftermath, there were a number of potentially disastrous communications problems. Agencies were stymied by the inability to communicate and coordinate efforts with other agencies. Seamless communication is critical in life-and-death situations where minutes and seconds count.
Since 9/11, law enforcement’s response to all man-made or natural disasters has made a 180-degree turn. Today our interagency relations and communications are at an all-time high. For instance, at RCSD we have an open line of communication with the U.S. Army at Fort Jackson, the S.C. adjutant general’s office, the state’s Emergency Management Division, and others.
Hurricane meet K9 Sugar Kane. He's remaining calm, got plenty of water, batteries, and non-perishable food. Also he personally made sure the boat was good to go, be more like K9 Sugar Kane. #HurricaneFlorence #K9 #prepared @k9_sugar pic.twitter.com/j1ohcM1uaS
— Richland County Sheriff's Dept. (@RCSD) September 11, 2018
Moreover, we are trained and equipped for everything from swift-water rescue (whether by boat, a landed position or deputies trained-and-equipped to enter the water and save lives); to providing food, water, clothing, and other essentials to disaster victims; transporting evacuees; even fielding chain-saw teams to cut trees off houses and other pieces of debris blocking roads for other emergency response personnel needing access.
Together with other law enforcement agencies around the country, we have embraced these newfound responsibilities. They are as much a part of 21st century policing in disaster preparedness and response as are our traditional responsibilities of keeping the peace, counter-looting operations, enforcing curfews, and generally ensuring that all of our citizens and their property are safe and secure.
Deputy Aarons from the Public Information Office asks our Richland County community to please follow us on Twitter @RCSD where we will be providing the most up-to-date information on #HurricaneFlorence
Posted by Richland County Sheriff's Department on Tuesday, September 11, 2018
Today, all RCSD deputies and other officers are required to train through FEMA’s National Incident Management System (NIMS). This program is but one of many steps taken to ensure our men and women are fully prepared for as yet unforeseen natural or man-made disasters. Deputies also receive incident management training at RCSD, and many have earned their undergraduate or graduate degrees in emergency management. This is now part of our culture.
Training and retraining for non-traditional roles in emergency response enabled us in recent years – specifically Hurricanes Joaquin in 2015, Matthew in 2016, and Irma in 2017 – to effectively mitigate what otherwise might have been something beyond-catastrophic in terms of numbers of lives lost. This is not to suggest that the lives lost in those disasters were not catastrophic. They absolutely were. But a life saved is a life saved. And in the end, isn’t that what law enforcement is all about?