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Arizona adopts innovative Incident Management Systems.

Every corrections agency has one--a lieutenant or captain who has been through the toughest disturbances and has the war stories and battle scars to prove it. Each succeeding generation of officer recruits quickly learns of this veteran's reputation.

The individual's legend almost always includes tales of heroism and risk taking, reflecting primal knowledge of weaponry, inmate psychology and bravado. And behind the person's actions is always a strong personal familiarity with the institution, the staff and the inmate population.

For better or worse, the dramatic increase in the size of correctional organizations throughout the country prevents continued exclusive reliance on this type of personal expertise. There are just not enough of these seasoned vets to go around: And fortunately, not enough disturbances occur to allow many people coming up through the ranks to learn their lessons in the school of hard knocks.

A Systematic Approach

What is needed today is a systematic, deliberate approach to dealing with all types of correctional incidents--from the smallest scale to the largest.

In the past, the unique nature of corrections has prevented many practitioners from attempting to adapt any existing systems to our profession, thinking perhaps that too many unpredictable elements exist to rely on anything but experienced staff instinct. However, if these instincts are examined carefully, many common elements can be discerned and systematized to allow every member of the organization to benefit from past successes and mistakes.

How, then, does a correctional professional take best advantage of knowledge and expertise in dealing with incidents--without having to live through these experiences, risking failure and ultimately the safety of staff and the public?

Under the leadership of Director Samuel A. Lewis, in 1992 the Arizona Department of Corrections adapted the Incident Management System (IMS) from a model fathered by Phoenix Fire Chief Alan Brunacini. Also known as Incident Command, Fire Ground Command and FIRESCOPE, this system organizes responses to emergency situations in a way that takes best advantage of available resources.

In Arizona, IMS has been hailed by administrators and line staff alike as a rational, deliberate approach to dealing with some of the most perplexing issues facing correctional staff. It has been used to structure organizations coordinating executions, assaults, searches, medical emergencies and airspace intrusion incidents.

Command Structure

Command structure is provided by IMS through several principles, some of which may be foreign to many seasoned correctional staff. Brief descriptions of the primary tenets follow:

1. Command is immediately assumed by the first non-involved staff member on the scene, regardless of rank.

2. Command can only be transferred when this transfer will benefit management of the incident, and only after a face-to-face briefing. Transfer can be vertical (when supervisors assume command from subordinates) or horizontal (when expertise or relief calls for it). Transfer cannot be assumed by anyone not at the site of the incident.

3. Assumption and transfer of command are clearly broadcast by radio so all staff are aware of who is in charge of the incident.

4. As the response to the incident expands, its structure also expands to ensure a limited span of control. No commander or leader has more than five persons reporting to him or her.

Communication Keys

Effective communication is a key to IMS. These guidelines are followed:

1. Staff are instructed to use plain English instead of numerical codes and call signs. This simplifies in-house communications and diminishes problems associated with dealing with other agencies that may use different codes and numbers.

2. Assumption of command requires a "brief initial report" in which all relevant information is broadcast, including type, location, participants and seriousness of the incident, as well as the name, rank and location of the incident commander. The incident commander also may request additional resources as required.

3. After an incident is announced and command is assumed, all extraneous radio traffic stops. Transmissions are limited to four brief broadcasts: assignment completed; additional resources required; unable to complete assignment; and special information.

4. Staff receiving transmissions must repeat the information back to the sender to ensure accurate information is relayed.

Levels of Response

The IMS response is comprised of the three escalating levels of response:

1. "Initial response" is the stage in which the initial incident commander assumes command until relieved. This is the stage during which two on-duty, pre-arranged teams (referred to as the A Team and the B Team) respond to the incident. These teams are identified daily as posts are staffed. All staff on duty are apprised of which officers are on which team.

2. "Local reinforced response" is the level at which additional teams are called in from other areas or from off-duty status.

3. "Outside agency response" is the highest level of response. It occurs when interagency cooperation and expertise is required. This may be for specialized issues such as firefighting or hazardous material spills, or when an escape response exceeds regular jurisdictions. This also is the point at which agency special weapons or tactical units may be deployed.

Activation of any level automatically puts the next level on standby or alert status.


Staging--the location of personnel and other resources--is another important IMS element. Staff are trained to respond only to a designated staging location from which they are deployed by the commander. This prevents them from rushing headlong into an area or entering situations unprepared.

When the A Team responds to an incident, team members gather in an area outside of the incident and receive instructions from the commander. As the size of the incident expands, a staging area away from the incident is designated, and the first member of the responding B Team becomes the staging area manager." This person coordinates and deploys the resources requested by the incident commander. To minimize confusion, communications from the staging area occur only between the incident commander and the staging area manager.

The agency administration must establish tactical priorities to ensure that the mission and objectives of each incident are clearly evident to all staff. In Arizona, these priorities begin with the safety, accountability and welfare of the public, staff and inmates, and conclude with returning the institution to normal operations.

A Case Study

Here is a description of a simulation we use to train line staff in IMS. Simulations should be conducted regularly to keep staff familiar with response practices and to test existing systems.

The simulation is based on a fight between two inmates that escalates when the spectators refuse to return to their cells. Although not reflected in the following representation, all transmissions would be repeated, or echoed, to ensure the accuracy of communications.

Officer Ring observes a fight with spectators. Staff at the scene manage to separate the inmates, but it appears that support is needed.

Officer Ring: 390 to control. This is Officer Ring. We have a fight in A Pod between two inmates, with weapons and spectators. Lock down Building 30. Send A Team response. I'll assume command.

(This constitutes the brief initial report.)

As A Team members (who had been designated at the start of the shift) begin responding to the incident, so does the shift supervisor, Sgt. Matson, along with an officer who brings the video camera. After being briefed, the supervisor assumes command and sends Officer Ring back to the original post assignment to help contain the incident. The incident commander situates himself in a place where he can observe the area but is physically removed from the activity.

Sgt. Matson: Sgt. Matson to control. I have been briefed by Officer Ring, and am now assuming command. Setting up command post in Kitchen 29.

(This is the transfer of command.)

The A Team leader, who also has been designated in advance, responds to the incident commander, advising him how many staff he can deploy:

Officer Combs: The A Team leader command. A Team has arrived at Building 30 entrance gate with a total of three officers plus myself ready to deploy. Where do you want us?

Sgt. Matson: I need two officers to try to get the inmates back in their cells and one to assist the recorder. You stand by for physical backup.

Officer Ring now reports that the inmates continue to refuse to lock down and have started to group along racial lines. This is considered a "special information" transmission.

The incident commander determines B Team response is required. B Team is instructed to meet at the visitation area, which is some distance from the activity. The first officer arriving at this area assumes the duties of staging area manager; all contact between command and staging will occur through this individual.

Officer Allen: This is Officer Allen. I have arrived in visitation. I'll be staging area manager.

Sgt. Matson: Command to staging. Form the responding officers into two-man teams. I'll need you to deploy the two-man teams to the southeast corner of Kitchen 29.

At this point, the resources available will differ significantly from institution to institution. If the situation continues to escalate, a special tactical unit may be called in, as well as available staff members from neighboring units or from their homes. These resources also can be organized using the IMS system. In this case, however, the simulation ends when all inmate spectators return to their housing areas.

What IMS Does And Doesn't Do

What IMS does:

1. It provides even the newest correctional officer with a blueprint for action when confronted with an emergency situation.

2. It empowers competent staff to deal with circumstances that they are most capable of handling and builds confidence in their ability to deal with difficult circumstances.

3. It provides for the most effective marshalling, staging and deployment of resources while focusing the incident commander's energy on making strategic decisions.

4. It enhances communication. Critical errors can be detected when the recipient of the message repeats the transmission. It also forces active listening by the recipient.

5. It prevents officers from abandoning critical posts when a call for back-up is broadcast. Officers automatically recognize their role and function on a daily basis through the assignment of A and B Team members.

6. Through staging, it prevents officers from unnecessarily entering situations that may be dangerous, volatile or chaotic. Only the required resources are deployed into the incident scene at the direction of the incident commander.

7. It provides positive reinforcement for action taken. In many incidents, staff often feel as though they have failed even when the outcome is positive. IMS allows a framework to measure effectiveness that enhances camaraderie and confidence.

8. It eliminates many ego-driven conflicts over function and roles. When the purpose of assignment is the benefit of the operation and functional lines are clearly defined, toes are not stepped on and egos are not bruised.

What IMS does not do:

1. It does not presume to dictate strategy to commanders.

2. It does not cater to the weakest link in the ranks of an institution. IMS assumes all staff are capable of acting as incident commander at least long enough to provide information and maintain command until relieved.

3. It does not work unless a dedicated effort is made to train and support staff in implementing the system.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Correctional Association, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Savage, Meg; Savage, Russ
Publication:Corrections Today
Date:Aug 1, 1993
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