Proper disaster and crisis preparedness is about much more than giving your organization and emergency officials the tools they need to successfully handle an emergency. It’s about ensuring that you have as much prepared ahead of time so that when an emergency does happen, you know what actions need to be taken, notifications need to be sent out, and what guidance should be provided. Although often assumed, having the procedures and means to instantly contact the police and local EMS is an important part of the preparation process. Developing relationships with local first responders and including them in the development and exercise of your emergency response and action plan is a most important step in preparedness.
It has become fairly easy to spread information or contact help when there’s an emergency. There are numerous paths with the capability to contact the authorities. However, developing and formalizing those communication paths prior to an incident has become a best practice under the concept of Community Policing.
Community policing is a philosophy that has been around since the 19th Century. As defined by COPS, it is a strategy by police and local authorities that focuses on building ties and working closely with members of the communities. Instead of arriving at a crime after the incident has happened, it encourages police to proactively engage with the community members and any underlying conditions to get first-hand experience. This also allows authorities to show community members they’re available for them; to protect, serve, and keep them safe. Traditionally, all policing was community policing until the ‘radio car’ started to be used.
Community policing is not just relegated to the police and first responders being out in the public shaking hands. Organizations such as businesses, colleges and universities, and manufacturing plants are able to develop community partnerships with police and local authorities to improve incident response and coordination. They can serve and should be used as an extension of your organization’s resources. The best way is to accomplish this is to develop a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with your police authorities and local EMS. An MOU describes the responsibilities of parties in carrying out an activity or process of interest. In this case, documenting local first responder involvement in your organization’s emergency planning, exercise, response, and recovery efforts. It is not a one-way street - local first responders become more familiar with your plans, facilities, and people. This sets the foundation for improved coordination and response time when an incident occurs.
Although in the United States, MOUs are not legally binding and are less formal than contracts, and usually, include fewer details and complexities. All sorts of organizations use MOUs to create guidelines for each party as they contribute their efforts and resources toward the same goal. In unison with the concept of community policing, MOUs are meant to build trust between the organization and the authorities it helps to support the collaboration between the two; and it also ensures that the authorities understand your organization and their emergency plans.
The main reason why entities develop an MOU is to create a collaboration between both parties to ensure they both have a full understanding of the scope of events and actions necessary to protect and respond to emergencies. In this day and age, all organizations - regardless of industry - must be prepared for any type of emergency situation. Establishing an MOU with authorities can help you to make sure that you have a good working relationship with them, and also ensure that they are involved in your emergency response and action plan.
As a part of this MOU, it is imperative to include local first responders in your Crisis Communications Team (CCT) who can help facilitate and better understand what needs to be done and how to control an emergency situation. Police and emergency medical responders can help ensure your organization has an effective emergency response plan in place to facilitate communications to help, employers, school administrators, and other decision-makers respond effectively and share crucial information with the larger community about the unfolding event. This team will take the lead in developing and delivering critical communications when a sudden emergency event occurs. It is an acknowledged best practice for organizations to include the local authorities as part of their CCT through an MOU.
Who should you develop MOUs with?
MOU’s typically include two sets of parties: the organization and the local first responder agency. Many organizations such as universities, businesses, and manufacturing plants create MOUs with agencies such as these to partner in emergency response and critical communications. Organizations must legally prepare an emergency response and action plan. This is to ensure you’re prepared for any emergency and your staff, students, or visitors will be informed of what steps to follow. Beyond readying your CCT and your people, you also want to make sure police and local EMS are contacted. Creating an MOU with these types of groups can save you time when you don’t have any to spare.
In unison with the philosophy of community policing, MOUs also afford the opportunity for first responders to participate in tests, exercises, and drills to which help to make sure everyone is aware of what should be done.
What is included in an MOU?
Each MOU is different because each organization and each industry has unique needs. Because every industry has different unique needs, no solution or plan can be cookie cutter.
There are three main points that each MOU should consist of:
1. Purpose - The purpose of creating an MOU is to have a shared understanding of the ideas and intent. An MOU should be explicit in its meanings. It needs to be as clear and detailed as possible so there is no confusion. That’s why you must align your MOU with your emergency response and action plan to make sure it includes everything your organization needs.
2. Communication and Coordination - There may be multiple groups of people you need to notify for different scenarios. You need to explicitly identify the specific groups and what their responsibilities will during an emergency. You must be very clear and concise about what communications you expect to happen and the means by which it will occur.
a. For example, a university would alert local police and EMS for an emergency at the same time they alert the students and staff within their organization. This saves them time in taking another step to have someone call 911.
b. Furthermore, you might include a two-way communication flow which has the local police inform the university when they are responding to any emergency event near the campus.
3. Trainings & Exercising - Lastly, you should include a section about training. An important part of an MOU is ensuring that the parties involved understand the duties and responsibilities held by both parties. Your organization should have tests, drills, and exercises throughout the year to be confident in your CCT and also familiarize your organization of the process. By including the parties involved in the MOU in your organization’s exercises and drills, as well as in additional trainings, you’re able to ready everyone for what they should do which could help to save time during a real emergency and possibly save lives. Emergencies don’t make plans, but you can.
Every second counts when it comes to an emergency situation. You’ve already prepared your CCT and your organization by conducting drills and exercises based on your emergency response and action plan and readying them for them for whatever emergency might happen. On top of that, it’s so important to have good working relationships with local authorities to assist you when you need them most.
Community Policing via creating MOUs with your local authorities is a proven method to ensure successful outcomes. Although your emergency response and action plan is never going to fit an actual crisis perfectly, it’s important to have it as close to perfect as possible and ready your CCT and organization. For deeper insights into how to better improve your organization read The Critical Communications Cycle.