Home Career Lessons Shared: Police Chiefs Who Have Made the Transition to Emergency Management

Lessons Shared: Police Chiefs Who Have Made the Transition to Emergency Management

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By Leischen Stelter

The roles and responsibilities of law enforcement are constantly shifting. One topic I have been particularly interested in lately is the merging of law enforcement and emergency management responsibilities.

During the last year, I heard from numerous police officials tasked with emergency management responsibilities, sometimes in addition to their normal duties. This happens because either there’s no one else to do it (or rather no money to pay someone to do it), or they find it’s a natural transition since their role as chief has already connected them with many city officials.

I kept hearing about this topic so often that I wrote an article on the subject for IACP’s publication, The Police Chief. The article was published in the November issue—read the article in full here.

I had some great conversations with several current and former police chiefs about the challenges they faced adjusting to emergency management responsibilities.

I spoke with Cory Lyman, Director of Emergency Management for Salt Lake City, Utah. He was in law enforcement for 27 years, 21 of them with the Salt Lake City Police Department and six years as the chief of police in Ketchum, Idaho.

He was persuaded to return to Salt Lake City to take on emergency management responsibilities, but his transition wasn’t exactly easy. Actually, he referred to it as: “Baptism by fire.”

There may have been a steep learning curve, but he had some great advice for others who are (or want) to make the transition to emergency management:

  • Accept the fact that you will never be an expert in every discipline, so come into it knowing you have a lot to learn.
  • Build strong relationships, and do not expect others to come to you, you must seek them out and make yourself available.
  • Know your job is never done. This can be especially difficult for those coming from law enforcement—you can never close the case.
  • Learn to accept incremental gains.

I also interviewed Chief Kevin Hale, a 23-year career officer, who also did not expect to take on emergency management responsibilities. For the last two years, Hale has held dual roles as the chief of police and the part-time director of emergency management for Ansonia, Connecticut, a city of about 19,000 just west of New Haven.

Hale also had some great advice for those taking on dual roles:  

  • Respect other people’s area of expertise and let them do their jobs (in other words: Don’t try to micromanage people)
  • Understand that the process of responding to an emergency is never going to be fluid and simple
  • You must have a completely open mind and plan for everything
  • Never be surprised by anything, always have a contingency plan in the back of your mind

In many respects, law enforcement officers already possess the training and required experience needed to be successful emergency managers, American Military University’s Professor Dennis Alvarez told me.

“Officers know what it’s like to be in the field and know what they have to work with and what resources are needed,” he said.

And, because law enforcement in general is shifting to an all-threats, all-hazards response approach, many officers are already trained in emergency response skills like the Incident Command System (ICS).

While law enforcement officers may have some advantages when it comes to being prepared to take on emergency management responsibilities, they still have a lot of learning to do in the field and also in the classroom.

For those considering making a deliberate move into emergency management, getting a degree in Emergency and Disaster Management (EDM) could make that transition smoother.  

While Lyman does not have a degree in EDM, he said that if he was making this transition 10 years earlier in his career, he probably would have obtained a degree.

Getting a formal degree not only provides the knowledge necessary for the job, but it also demonstrates to potential employers that you are dedicated to the profession, according to Giles Hoback, an EDM professor at American Public University.

“All my experience was great, and it certainly helped me, but having the formal education piece demonstrated my willingness to commit to doing the job. I wanted to show that I had a good grasp on what I would be expected to do.”

For more advice and recommendations from these law enforcement leaders, read the full article featured in The Police Chief.

Are you a law enforcement officer considering shifting to an emergency management role? What is your biggest concern?

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