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New Jersey jail benefits from emergency evacuation excercise.

According to American Correctional Association standards, emergency evacuation plans are required for correctional facilities, and the exercises must be conducted on a quarterly basis, on every shift and in every section, including the administrative areas. In addition, the New Jersey Administrative Codes that govern adult county correctional facilities require similar emergency plans and drills. The state requires a written contingency plan coordinated with other facilities and law enforcement agencies in the event an emergency evacuation is required.

With that in mind, staff at Cape May County Correctional Center in Cape May Court House, N.J., an ACA-accredited jail, conducted a simulated emergency evacuation exercise in coordination with Bayside New Jersey State Prison, located in Leesburg. A requirement to evacuate everyone from the correctional center safely and securely in the event of an emergency, coupled with the potential to move a significant number of inmates to an alternate site, entails detailed planning, coordination, identification of resources and responsibilities, and, finally, testing to verify that the plan will work. Emergency planning is one of the most important responsibilities of any jail administration for staff and inmates because without good planning, chaos will reign, security will be breached and the lives of staff, visitors and inmates most likely will be in jeopardy.

Planning the Evacuation

The depth that a facility tests its plan is up to administrators, but if sufficient efforts are not taken to ensure an evaluation of all portions of the plan periodically, staff are being done a grave disservice. After all, the entire plan may look great on paper, but until it is exercised, evaluated and improved, it may not work when an actual emergency occurs. Cape May Correctional Center staff conduct the required exercises on a monthly basis, but this was the first time that an exercise of this magnitude was conducted by staff and with the full cooperation and support of Bayside State Prison staff and the New Jersey Department of Corrections.

A successful exercise requires a few months of training, coordination and numerous phone calls and meetings. Four meetings between key staff members of the correctional center, Bayside State Prison, other county agencies and various law enforcement agencies were held to plan the exercise's execution. In addition, site visits were required to ensure that the evacuation of inmates could be accommodated, as well as to familiarize key staff with the alternate site and its procedures.

The Exercise Concept

The exercise scenario began with the simulated loss of electrical power resulting from a major storm, further compounded by the failure of the correctional center's emergency generator and the inability to repair it for at least three days. This would cause the center's staff to implement emergency evacuation procedures for 223 inmates based on the approval of acting Sheriff Raymond D. Lewis and support provided by Bayside State Prison administrator Chuck Leone and his staff.

The overall exercise goal was to safely and securely conduct a simulated severe weather emergency evacuation of the correctional center, which then was projected into several objectives as follows:

* Evaluate the support (buses, personnel, equipment) requirements to move 223 inmates under emergency conditions;

* Test-load a minimum of 30 inmates (conduct strip searches, provide security, load inmate property) on a bus and enclosed panel truck;

* Evaluate the center's emergency evacuation policy and procedures, and the new emergency evacuation checklist during a simulated event;

* Determine shortfalls in planning, operations, personnel and equipment through conducting an actual simulated event;

* Refine the coordination, cooperation and planning between county and state agencies through periodic meetings;

* Have a minimum of 16 correctional center staff members conduct a familiarization visit of Bayside State Prison;

* Conduct a safe and secure road movement of personnel and equipment within the time constraints established; and

* Conduct an after-action review, or critique, immediately following the exercise--while memories are still fresh.

Conducting the Exercise

The exercise began at 5:30 a.m. and the evaluation period ended at 9:30 a.m., upon arrival of the correctional center's staff at Bayside State Prison. They, together with the prison's staff, then completed an after-action review and a familiarization walk through the prison.

During the exercise, 30 minimum-security inmates were test-loaded onto a DOC bus and their individual mattresses and bedding were test-loaded on a county enclosed truck. Once all the inmates were loaded, they were immediately unloaded, as well as their bedding, and the inmates were then returned to their housing units. The purpose of test-loading the 30 inmates was to determine how much time it would take to gather inmate medical and personal records and process, strip search and properly secure the inmates in preparation to move them to Bayside State Prison. This would then establish, for planning purposes, an actual event time period to move larger numbers of inmates. It took 50 minutes to move and load the inmates' equipment and conduct strip searches of the inmates using four correctional officers. Handcuffing the inmates and loading them on the bus took an additional 15 minutes. If the entire jail population of 223 inmates required movement, it was estimated that it would take almost six hours. However, by using more officers, the time to conduct strip searches, load equipment and secure the inmates would significantly decrease.

The purpose of loading the 30 inmate mattresses and bedding was to determine the cubic feet of space required, which could then help determine the space required for larger inmate populations at the correctional center. Test-loading the equipment took 10 minutes using five inmates. Again, this time would significantly decrease by using more inmates to load the equipment. It was estimated that the inmates' property could be moved on two small 15-foot enclosed-body trucks from the county or one large 40-foot container from a private contractor.

The correctional center's staff followed and evaluated a new emergency evacuation policy and procedure checklist that allowed more flexibility for the shift commanders and supervisors, as well as the officers. The checklist was broken down into the various officer responsibilities and support personnel requirements. It is designed to stand alone and to be used by staff to check their progress during an emergency, as well as record times and other information. It is also to be used as a record of the event at the conclusion of the exercise or actual emergency. The checklist was beneficial for this first time major event and has already been modified and updated based on the after-action review.

The next phase of the operation required simulating the transport of inmates from the correctional center to Bayside State Prison approximately 19 miles away. This required close cooperation and coordination with the Cape May County Office of Emergency Management/Communication, the Middle Township Police Department and the New Jersey State Police. The movement included nine vehicles, 27 Cape May County correctional officers and sheriff's officers, four Bayside correctional officers and two civilian employees, together with the complete support of the local and state law enforcement agencies.

The actual road movement convoy required 31 minutes from beginning, at the correctional center staff entrance, to end, exactly on schedule at the main entrance of Bayside State Prison. It was a precise and safe road movement that any army would have been proud to conduct. However, a house being moved along the same highway the correctional center convoy traveled on created an unexpected, but realistic, minor adjustment to the travel plan. During the movement, portable and vehicle communications were verified to determine shortfalls in equipment. Upon arrival at the prison entrance, the exercise was considered complete and the next phase of the operation of familiarizing the center's staff with the overall facility followed.

The familiarization phase was indeed an important portion of the exercise, as the correctional center's staff would be responsible for maintaining the safety and security of the inmates at the prison under the supervision of the prison's staff and under their rules and regulations. The correctional center's staff had never visited the prison prior to this exercise so it was important for them to visit all the key areas, such as housing units, recreation areas, inmate programs, dining and security. During this process, staff from both the institutions conducted the after-action review on the exercise.

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Lessons Learned

Overall, this emergency evacuation exercise was conducted in a very safe and secure manner without any accidents or injuries. It reinforced the value of planning, as well as coordination and cooperation from many state, county and municipal agencies. But most important, it was successful and a significant first of its kind conducted by Cape May County Correctional Center staff. Although the correctional center complies with state and ACA requirements for planning and conducting quarterly emergency drills and exercises, it has never conducted an exercise that consisted of loading inmates and actually moving personnel outside the confines of the facility's grounds. The following are some of the lessons learned in conducting this exercise:

* More officers are required to search and load inmates in order to evacuate the center faster;

* Priority of housing units/areas of evacuation must be determined quickly and staff must focus on them in order of priority;

* The availability of inmate bedding and supplies at the alternate evacuation site will significantly lower the support and transportation requirements;

* Checklists are invaluable to a smooth operation, as requirements are quickly identified, a record of events/times are kept and it aids in conducting the after-action review;

* Routes to and from the alternate evacuation site must be thoroughly planned, coordinated and secured;

* Convoy operations, similar to a military-type convoy movement, are not normal for most civilian/government agencies and require thorough training, communications and safety briefings;

* Radio relay stations at various sites must be arranged/pre-selected in order for portable radios to communicate over extended distances from the base stations;

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* Meetings and more meetings are critical to success;

* Plans must be flexible, published and reviewed periodically, and staff and support personnel must be periodically trained; and

* A safety officer overseeing operations will enhance the process.

Success and Improvements

If the correctional center's staff had to categorize success, it could be in two words: safely and securely. This event, although only using a small portion of the inmate population, was very safe and secure. The exercise players conducted themselves in a professional manner at all times. It became so realistic, that a portion of the inmate population thought they were being moved because there was actually an emergency. This was a surprise event for the inmates for security purposes and only at the last minute were the inmates informed about the exercise. The exercise was also considered a success because all its goals and objectives were achieved.

Improvements were implemented immediately following the event. Administrators have consolidated several emergency policies and procedures into one overall document and have circulated it for comment among staff. This new emergency response planning guide uses input from many emergency preparedness publications and is designed so that the emergency checklists can be pulled from the document to be used or reproduced during the emergency. Additional exercises with Bayside State Prison and other county jails will be coordinated in the future.

Everyone who works in the corrections field must have thorough plans and procedures to safely and securely accomplish their daily duties and responsibilities, but more important, they must have more comprehensive plans and procedures to operate safely and securely during all types of emergency situations. During emergencies, correctional facilities are most vulnerable to inmate aggression and possible escape attempts. All the written emergency plans can never be considered truly valid and proved unless they are physically tested. Through this emergency exercise, Cape May County Correctional Center had the best possible mechanism to validate its plans, procedures, employee performance and the performance of all the supporting agencies.

Col. Jeffrey L. Pierson, CJM, MAS, is undersheriff of the Cape May County Sheriff's Office Correctional Division.
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Article Details
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Author:Pierson, Jeffrey L.
Publication:Corrections Today
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2003
Words:1976
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