Correctional Officials Prepare for Crisis

Correctional leaders from across the country confer during a simulation involving Texas prison during a hurricane.
Correctional leaders from across the country confer during a simulation involving Texas prison during a hurricane.

Correctional officials from across the country gathered at the Correctional Management Institute of Texas at Sam Houston State University to learn incident command and emergency preparedness skills to deal with crises ranging from daily issues to large scale disasters in their institutions.

"In fulfilling our mission of operating safe and secure prison facilities, emergency preparedness training is a critical focus for correctional professionals," said Doug Dretke, Director of CMIT. "The National Institute of Corrections with instructors Meg and Russ Savage have developed an exceptional program that empowers correctional staff to respond quickly and effectively to a critical incident within an incident command system for corrections."

The Incident Command Simulation Suite includes maps, diagrams of facilities and other GIS data.
The Incident Command Simulation Suite includes maps, diagrams of facilities and other GIS data.
The 36-hour program, sponsored by the National Institute of Corrections, provided classroom and hands-on instruction on the methods, practices, procedures and systems needed to manage crises in correctional facilities. Coordinated with the National Incident Management System (NIMS) for use in disasters, the program is the only one in the country to adapt the national model to correctional settings, which can be applied to simple crises, such as medical calls on a unit, to complex disasters, such as a full scale riot or a major weather event threatening facilities.

“It gave us experience with the incident command system,” said Charles Freeman, Assistant Administrator for Security and Emergency Management at the Virginia Department of Corrections. “It’s going to help me know what to evaluate. It gives me better insight on all the roles, and what everyone is responsible for.”

Freeman oversees 25 correctional facilities in Virginia and 42 probation and parole offices. The training gave him ideas for drills and exercises that he could run at the facilities.

A classroom can monitor the inner workings of a command center during training.
A classroom can monitor the inner workings of a command center during training.
Two-member teams from state correctional agencies in Tennessee, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Maine, Washington, and South Dakota, as well as six representatives from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, got to test the procedures in the Incident Command Simulation Training Suite at the Law Enforcement Management Institute of Texas. The state-of-the-art facility allows simulations of real life events using the incident command model.

After touring a large prison, the Wynne Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, to observed a critical incident simulation and gain an idea of the layout of the facility, participants reenacted many of the scenarios that occurred during Tropical Storm Allison, adding the transfer of 600 inmates from a coastal prison to the mix.

A correctional official maps out actions to deal with crisis.
A correctional official maps out actions to deal with crisis.
Jennifer Stanwick, Associate Warden in the South Dakota Department of Corrections, said the program showed her how to replicate large scale disasters in a small, controlled environment. It will help provide better planning and deployment in her three facilities – including a low-medium custody prison and two minimum custody facilities – which are located 400 miles apart.

For Arnold Smith, Division Director of Operations, Planning and Training for the Georgia Department of Corrections, he found new ways to expand the program to front line employees through basic training, mentorships, and field training.

Officials handle different aspects of the crisis, such as operations, security, finances and public information.
Officials handle different aspects of the crisis, such as operations, security, finances and public information.
"This is not just for security staff or senior leaders,” said Smith. “It’s for everybody. It’s ultimately for everyone to utilize as a way of life. The principals and practices can be put to use in what we do on a daily basis.”

While the program focuses on corrections, with scenarios based on correctional facilities and industry-specific issues, it aligns with the National Incident Management System, a model used by other disciplines, such as law enforcement, fire service, public health, medical facilities, and public utility companies, in response to natural or manmade disasters.

A public information officer stages a press conference.
A public information officer stages a press conference.
“If you have a multi-agency event, with fire, police, medical services and corrections, everyone is speaking the same language,” said Meg Savage, a consultant to the National Institute of Corrections. “All the requirements are the same, regardless of the incident or discipline.”

In addition to preparing for crises, the program helps contribute to officer safety, security within the institution, staff development and better employee relations, Savage said.

“We want to present this model to other agencies in hopes that they will use it,” said Tony Stines of the National Institute of Corrections. “It will aid them in managing any incident.”


Member of The Texas State University System