Magazine article Corrections Today

Correctional Emergency Management: The Next Level

Magazine article Corrections Today

Correctional Emergency Management: The Next Level

Article excerpt

It is important that correctional administrators ensure that their emergency management systems continually reach the highest possible form of quality. After considering the aftermath of any of the major correctional emergencies in history, it appears well worth the effort and inexcusable for jurisdictions not to provide their full attention and resources to achieve a quality emergency plan.

Total Involvement Emergency Management

Consider the following scenario. A shift commander at a 1,000-bed medium-custody or above prison has just arrived for the beginning of his day shift when major fighting breaks out among inmates in the recreation yard and in cell blocks. After approximately one hour, the disturbance is under control, at which point the shift commander begins debriefing the facility's administration.

During those 60 minutes, what can facility staff be doing to support the shift commander's efforts in successfully managing this emergency? Here are a few examples:

* Secure uninvolved areas of the facilities;

* Deploy first responding staff;

* Secure tools and caustic materials;

* Secure recreational equipment;

* Commence emergency notifications;

* Account for inmates and route them to designated holding areas;

* Commence with an inmate lockdown;

* Account for all staff and route those not assigned to posts to staging areas for deployment;

* Conduct callbacks for emergency teams and critical staff;

* Establish a command center;

* Begin to preserve evidence and crime scenes; and

* Begin investigations.

In formulating such a list, who specifically should perform these tasks during those crucial 60 minutes? Given the fact that the shift commander and first responding staff will be far too busy to attend to these tasks, it becomes obvious that it should be the staff who are not immediately responding to the emergency who must initiate the action. As staff who first respond to the emergency are activated, immediate communication must set the remainder of the facility staff swiftly in motion so they are in the best position for success. A similar strategy is employed by sailors when responding to a call for "battle stations." Everyone is involved and each person moves as swiftly as possible to their designated position to respond to the threat. It is a process that is practiced and refined as a continuous effort to improve and be more effective in responding to a crisis in prison. An effective emergency plan's goal is to immediately place the facility in the best possible position to contain and resolve the emergency. Often in correctional emergencies, it is how efficiently and effectively staff respond in the first 30 to 60 minutes that determines the success of the response. As evidenced in events such as the Lucasville riot in Ohio and the Montana State Prison riot, disturbances can become deadly serious in a matter of a few minutes. These types of events are not often the best conditions for an immediate and successful resolution, and they can provide opportunity to allow the negative effects of the emergency to migrate to the entire facility.

Most facilities in the Colorado Department of Corrections, and others around the country, have an emergency plan and emergency teams, and provide some measure of training to staff in key leadership positions. However, inmates and a majority of the facility's remaining staff are not involved in serious emergency management training or exercise efforts. Under emergency conditions, it is difficult for them to provide a productive response as described earlier. Most often, this sizeable challenge rests on very few shoulders. The lack of constant attention, a marginal commitment from leadership and competing priorities may cause the program effort to sag and deteriorate over time. Unfortunately, a major disaster may be the only element that restores sensitivity to the need. …

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