3 Steps to Build a Relationship with First Responders

July 30, 2012
When is the last time you talked to your city’s police chief, your neighborhood beat cop, or first responders with the fire department? The right police and fire officials should recognize you and your facility team as a trustworthy ally. Learn how to create this kind of connection to ensure first responders have the advantage in your building.

When is the last time you talked to your city’s police chief, your neighborhood beat cop, or first responders with the fire department? The right police and fire officials should recognize you and your facility team as a trustworthy ally.

They want to understand that you value their expertise, explains Dan Arenovski, associate director of corporate security at One Stamford Forum, a 15-story building in downtown Stamford, CT. Learn how to create this kind of connection to ensure first responders have the advantage in your building.

1)    Make the First Move
At a meeting of your local business development district or Chamber of Commerce, introduce yourself to police and fire officials. If that’s not the right setting for an introduction, you can at least acquire the names of the right people to call.

Center City District (CCD) in Philadelphia is a business improvement organization dedicated to increasing business security across the city. Stacy A. Irving, senior director of crime prevention services for CCD, founded the Philadelphia Crime Prevention Council in 1995. The group includes approximately 100 business owners, property managers, security directors, and representatives from the city’s police and fire departments.

Its primary purpose is to alert the community to basic crime patterns, terrorism issues, public protests, and other security concerns. When problems arise, Irving works with police and property or security managers to coordinate communications.

Last May, for instance, the Philadelphia Police Department and CCD received reports of more than 18 laptop thefts from three office buildings. Irving emailed an Office Theft Crime Bulletin reporting the thief’s methods and description, included a surveillance camera photo of the suspect, and provided a specific contact along with the names, ranks, and telephone numbers of the inspectors and captains responsible for the CCD.

The alert also solicited information about similar crimes from property managers and security directors. “When the police department wants to put out information about a crime, we get the information to property managers so they can inform their tenants,” Irving says.

2)    Take Advantage of the Situation
If your city doesn’t have a civic organization that can pave the way, pave your own way.

“If an incident has occurred and the police or fire department has responded, develop contacts on site,” says Arenovski, who is also a member of the ASIS Physical Security Council. “When someone takes a breather, offer your knowledge of the facility and ask for business cards, names, titles, and phone numbers.”

“Within two days, send thank you notes to the appropriate officials on company letterhead, recognizing anyone who stood out,” Arenovski recommends. “These folks receive little thanks. Recognize their efforts in writing.”

3)    Make a Date
If you’re fortunate enough not to have an incident, visit the police or fire department.

“Walk in, tell the public contact who you are, provide a business card, and ask to introduce yourself to the chief,” says Arenovski. “Say you want to discuss a donation and the possibility of setting up an exercise in your facility.”

Since 1995, Mike Fickes has contributed over 200 security articles to publications covering hotel, industrial, office, retail, critical infrastructure, and education. His interests include security management, policies, strategies, and technologies.

An exercise allows the police or fire personnel to practice an emergency drill in your facility that mirrors real-life conditions. Police, for example, may test their officers for an active shooter, a hostage situation, or a public protest.

Exercises can be conducted at night or on the weekend to minimize business disruption.  The advantage is that first responders become familiar with your facility’s layout.

If you are turned away, get a name and number, continues Arenovski. A follow-up call is a good idea, particularly if your business card and message were passed along to the right contact.

When you get through, introduce yourself and ask for a meeting. If the official hasn’t seen your building, suggest a cup of coffee in your cafeteria or office. If there’s no interest, meet at the department.

“Your first goals are to shake hands and tell the official face-to-face that you want to better your relationship with the department,” Arenovski says.

“If the meeting occurs at your building, provide a quick, casual tour – no dog and pony show,” Arenovski continues. “Your goal at this meeting is to lay the groundwork for another meeting. You can do that by asking the names of the commander, captain, or lieutenant responsible for your area. Communicate an interest in meeting them.”

After the meeting, write a thank you note and call a week later to ask for another meeting.

“If you get through, you know you’re starting to build a relationship,” Arenovski says. “If you don’t, don’t take it personally. Keep working. When you do get through, ask for a meeting at your building and invite the captain or lieutenant working your area. At the meeting, learn the names of the beat cops in your neighborhood. Suggest that your contact tell the beat cop on the night shift to swing by for a cup of coffee in the command center.”

Lay the foundation for a personal relationship with key people brick by brick, meeting by meeting. As you develop a personal relationship, gradually communicate the details of your building and what you need. Don’t forget to make an appropriate donation and host an exercise.

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