Leading Through a Crisis
On September 27, 2022, Hurricane Ian impacted the Lee County, Florida, community. This storm would later be documented as one of the deadliest hurricanes to ever impact the state. I assisted multiple first responders with rescue and recovery operations.
By the end of this experience, I learned more about my people and myself. This whole ordeal highlighted how preparation for a crisis enables you to deal with any situation that may arise.
Preparing for an Event
What can you do to prepare for an unexpected crisis event? Start now. First, ensure your loved ones have what they need so you can focus on priorities at work. Second, determine what your assets and resources are ahead of time. Finally, confirm you have hard copies of critical information (e.g., maps and contact information for all personnel) in a safe place.
Your mindset will be your most valuable asset. Resilience can make the difference between success and failure. Leaders must remain positive and ready to adapt as the situation evolves. Learning such techniques as meditation and yoga before a crisis occurs will not only better prepare us to handle the stressful days and weeks after an event but also improve overall performance as law enforcement professionals.
Further, leaders should pursue leadership training in all forms to continuously sharpen their skills. Having participated in and completed numerous leadership courses and training made us better prepared to handle the unexpected.
Navigating the Crisis
Leaders will quickly learn who on their team is mentally and physically prepared and who will need more patience, understanding, and grace. During the crisis event, different team members reacted in various ways to the stress. To that end, leaders must be ready to mentally accept problems that arise and view them as opportunities.
My agency made all necessary preparations and waited for the storm’s impact. As we received priority missions affecting the infrastructure of our area, we knew we had to respond to these tasks regardless of the circumstances. While also acknowledging the seriousness of the situation, I attempted to use a few situations to create light humor. At times this worked, while at other times we collectively accepted that we did not have to like every part of our job.
Leaders must continue to offer encouragement and support, even when unsure of the outcome in crisis events. Employees look to their leaders to set the example and tone. In one situation, a teammate became crippled by anxiety due to a phone call from a relative overwhelmed by water and wind damage occurring to their home. We were too far away to physically help, and most emergency services were suspended. All we could do was tell our teammate we would figure it out together.
Experiencing these disastrous scenes overwhelmed and challenged us physically and mentally, yet our team became even closer. Leaders as well as team members must be aware of unspoken feelings and encourage trust. As the storm subsided, we began our rescue efforts. The sights, sounds, and smells resembled a disaster film, yet this was real life — our life. As traumatic scenes unfold during a crisis event, leaders must communicate regularly with their team members, acknowledge their concerns, and show empathy to ensure cohesion. The benefits of a strong team cannot be overstated.
Dealing with the Aftermath
Leaders must continue to clarify directives because the focus and direction may change and listen to and watch team members as such crises take their toll. Our rescue efforts eventually became recovery efforts. The medical examiner’s office was overtasked, and bridges were severely damaged and impassable. According to the watermarks inside the homes we searched, the water level reached at least eight feet at one point. Team members continued to work together and leaned on each other to get through these tough days.
One of the only comforts leaders may be able to provide during crisis events is ensuring their people have a decent meal. During these quick breaks, we ate, joked about our day, told stories about our lives, and made plans to check on our family. Some team members did not have an inhabitable home to return to, and we worked and stayed together for almost a week. In such circumstances, leaders should instill as much normalcy as possible, even if for a small amount of time.
Law enforcement professionals must ensure they are prepared both physically and mentally for any unexpected crisis event. Prior planning for you and your family will make it easier to be there for your team. Strong teams lean on each other and make time to listen.
Now is the time to prepare to answer that call of duty. This unexpected crisis event brought out the best in us and reminded us that this career is a calling, not just a job.
“Now is the time to prepare to answer that call of duty.”
Captain David Lebid with the Lee County, Florida, Sheriff’s Office, a graduate of FBI National Academy Session 286, prepared this Leadership Spotlight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.