Emergency Preparedness: Coaching the Fundamentals

Article excerpt

Corrections-specific emergencies impact all types of facilities from community work release centers to jails and prisons--regardless of location, size or if they are public or privately managed facilities. These emergencies have the potential to be complex, dynamic, dangerous and confusing, requiring an immediate response from the line staff supervising the area, first responders and facility managers. Agencies utilize comprehensive emergency management programs, emergency response plans and a variety of training programs to prepare staff to not only respond to, but also manage and resolve these emergencies as well. Even the most experienced, well-trained agencies should be asking, "Are we prepared for an emergency right now?"

There are a number of effective approaches to developing a comprehensive emergency preparedness program, but the true test does not often come until an emergency occurs. As the facility responds, it is too late to ask if everyone on your team is prepared for each of the emergencies outlined in your response plan. Equally important is knowing what you can do before that alarm sounds to test your emergency preparedness system to ensure that everyone is ready.

The Fundamentals

Athletic teams, regardless of the sport, prepare for each game by focusing on the basic fundamentals for each position, evaluating and developing a plan for their opponent, and then executing their game plan based on their preparation. This approach can work for correctional administrators to test and refine their facility's emergency preparedness plans. Think about a basketball coach preparing his or her team for an upcoming game. The coach focuses on the core fundamentals--regardless if it is shooting, passing drills, free throws, rebounds, dribbling or transitioning from offense to defense. Now consider the value in this approach to emergency preparedness and response at a facility. Although every emergency is different, there are core fundamentals that first responders, staff working in other areas of the facility, as well as managers perform as part of the emergency response plan. While the following fundamentals may not apply to all emergencies, they can provide a foundation to build on as correctional workers review their facility response plans.

Facility lockdown. Determine how quickly staff can isolate and contain an emergency. How long does it take to secure the institution and initiate an emergency count at different times of the day? For example, how do procedures change during the busiest times of the day--during mass inmate movements, shift changes, programs hours and recreation periods, or during the afternoon and night shifts when staffing levels may be decreased.

Staff accountability. How quickly can each staff member be accounted for during an emergency? Is there a designated staging area? Can they be accounted for if the time clock or computer generated listings are unavailable due to a power outage? How are visitors and volunteers accounted for? How often is the staff recall roster actually verified? Are the numbers accurate? Is someone designated to call staff during off hours? If the facility is required to call local schools, businesses and law enforcement agencies in the event of an escape or disturbance, when was the last time these numbers were tested or verified?

Group release function and emergency keys. Are staff familiar with how to use the group release function for emergency evacuation? Are they familiar with which doors automatically open? Do they know how to reset the system to restore the locking functions? Does everyone working in a designated area know how to use the emergency keys? Have they actually held them in their hands and opened security doors and gates? Does everyone understand the notching/color codes?

Physical plant-related issues. How many staff know where the shut-off valves are located for the water, gas and power in a specific area or the entire facility? …