Social Chaos Following a Grid Down: Are Police and Fire Agencies Prepared?
By Dennis Porter, alumnus, Homeland Security, American Military University
A similar version of this article was originally published by The Hill, a print and online source for policy and political news.
Although there have been a number of articles, books and experts that have discussed the results and consequences of a potential “grid down,” what they all fail to address is the role of police and firefighters in the aftermath of such an event. The question we all need to start asking is: Have police and fire agencies done any training, tabletop exercises or planning for how they will deploy their personnel or resources in a national grid down?
I am a 38-year veteran officer and Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) trainer, and have personally asked numerous law enforcement and fire agencies if they have conducted any training or planning for a grid down situation. Worryingly, the answer has always been a resounding “no.”
Our greatest threat in a grid down is “social chaos” where a breakout of fires and personal emergencies will require a police or fire response. However, in a grid down scenario, communications will be one of the first things to break down. Without communication, police and fire will not know where to dispatch their personnel to deal with the emergencies that are sure to follow. If police and fire have not made plans for the deployment and retention of personnel, then I believe there is a risk they might fail to protect the communities they serve.
We all take for granted that in a catastrophic event, police and firefighters will be there to handle the situation. However, without the proper planning and training for a national grid down, off-duty police and firefighters will most likely stay home to protect their family and property. The ones who are on duty may also leave their posts to respond to their families.
One police commander asked me if there are any federal grants to do the kind of training that is needed. Although the White House has released a plan in broad terms for a nationwide grid down, agencies need to start implementing preparations of their own. According to a recent conversation I had with the Special Agent in Charge of Las Vegas, local law enforcement agencies have yet to conduct any training programs or planning. The agent told me: “No, but they should be.” Can any you imagine what Las Vegas would look like in a grid down event?
Every mayor, community leader and concerned citizen should ask their police and fire agencies what plans they have to help their communities in a grid down incident. There is plenty of literature and opinions from experts about how bad it will be to live in a grid down world, but now we need to focus our efforts on the role of police and fire agencies in such an event.
About the Author: Dennis Porter has more than 38 years of law enforcement experience with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. He is also a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) member and trainer. Dennis holds a master’s degree in Homeland Security with an emphasis in Emergency Disaster Management from American Military University.