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We Have Lost Power – Yes, It Can Happen – Part One

July 1st, 2014

Well, the “cat is out of the bag”! A detailed report issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission shows “vulnerable” the American power grid is to attack. The March 13,, 2013, Wall Street Journal had a front page article explaining how fragile the entire grid is to sabotage

This WSJ article, also highlights the attack on a power transformer installation in California. There are those who believe that this was a practice session, to disrupt the power grid, by terrorists.

According to numerous news reports, the attack on the California transformer station was very “professional”. The perpetrators cut the fiber optic telephone wires that were underground and difficult to find. By cutting these fiber optic cables, they rendered the alarm inactive.

Once they silenced the alarm system, they then fired several high-powered rifle bullets into very strategic elements of the station.

Both the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Report and the WSJ journal article should sound alarm bells for every administrator who operates a 24/7/365 operation in the United States. Here are just a few quotes that I believe are crucial:

  1. “ The U.S. will suffer a coast-to coast blackout if saboteurs knock out just nine of the country’s 55,000 electric transmission substations…”
  2. The FERC analysis indicates that knocking out nine of those key substations could plunge the country into darkness for weeks, if not months.
  3. This would be an event of unprecedented proportions. (Professor Ross Baldick, University of Texas at Austin.)
  4. …Belief by some people at the agency that an attack-related blackout could be extraordinarily long, because the big transformers and other equipment are hard to replace.

Now, the question is how will agencies who have the responsibilities to operate 24/7/365 prepare for what could be the most challenging episodes ever faced by the America public – “The loss of all electrical power”!

Just take a minute to think about some agencies that must operate to maintain “Public Safety and Emergency Services”: Police, Fire Service, Correctional Facilities, Hospitals and Shelters, Emergency, Television and Radio Broadcasting Stations. The list could go on and on.

It is these agencies that need to start preparing, NOW, for the loss of all external power, because it could be happening now!

Where to start the planning process is a monumental and extremely complex question? I have worked on writing and reviewing emergency / contingency plans in this country and other countries for over 30 years. The only time that I can remember any pre-event planning for of this magnitude was pre-Y-2-K, close to 14 years ago.

Yet, even then the Y-2-K (2000) belief was that even if we lost power and other utilities, it would only last until the computers could be reprogrammed, a month or two at the very most.

Planning for a catastrophic event such as the Loss of All External Electrical Power for “AN EXTENDED PERIOD OF TIME” that could be as long as 6 months requires a great deal of extensive, almost microscopic, planning and the playing out of numerous and various scenarios never before thought about.

This series of articles will attempt to address the numerous areas that correctional agencies and facilities will have to closely assess in their planning processes to insure that they are as prepared, as they can be, should/when this power loss incident occurs.

As I see it, there are 4 Major Categories that must be addressed to have a comprehensive plan to manage an incident of this magnitude.

Before going any further, I am going to ask the readers to identify, in writing, every area of your facility’s operations that depends on electrical power, keeping in mind that some operations can be accomplished manually.


Name Primary Manually
Locking Systems Electrical Yes
Refrigeration Electrical No
Communications Electrical Yes/No*
Gas Pump Electrical Yes**

* Partial radio communication can be accomplished by radios in vehicles and by charging portable radios off the cigarette lighter in the vehicle. Vehicles should be operated sparingly to preserve fuel.
** If the facility has its own gas pumps, it should purchase a hand pump to have on hand should/when it is needed.

For the purpose of this exercise, disregard the temporary power that the facility will have as long as the generators are operational. The possibility exists of the generators running out of fuel or malfunctioning because of extended (overuse) use. Remember, we are discussing months of 24/7 operations.

Facility Generator (s)

Crucial things to know about the facility’s generator (s):

  • What “Exactly” is connected “currently” to the generator?
  • What is the maximum “load” for the facility’s generator(s)?
  • What electrical devices can be shut-off (even periodically) should there be a loss of external electrical power? ( The goal here is to lighten the load on the generator (s).)
  • What is the fuel consumption (burn rate) per hour?
  • What type of fuel is used to power the facility’s generator (s) (The name of the supplier – What provision has the supplier made to supply fuel to its customers should there be a loss of external power, e.g. Does the supplier have generators.)
  • Identify the name, address, and telephone number of the company / manufacturer of the generator should it break down and repair a person is needed.
  • Solicit from the generator manufacturer the following information:
    1. What are the maximum number of hours the model generator (s) of the facility should be in operation?
    2. What parts most frequently break down? (The facility should consider purchasing these parts and have them on hand.)
    3. Under very adverse conditions, how long would it take the manufacturer to get a repairperson to your location?
  • Establish an agreement / contract with a company that rents generators to have a generator, large enough, to handle the facility’s electrical needs. (This should be done immediately. If/when there is a power blackout, it will be too late!)
  • If the facility’s generator (s) uses diesel fuel, try to always have at least one month’s extra supply of fuel on hand.

I believe that it you complete the above exercise, you will be astonished at how dependent the facility is on electrical power and how much of the facility’s operations can be accomplished manually.

Remember, you are planning for something that has never happened before, so be as finite as you want to be.

I will close this article with this statement. I was told by a General when we conducting an emergency planning session, “As for you folks at the penitentiary – You are on your own – We will be taking care of the citizens”!

Still to come in the future articles:

  1. Personnel Issues / Concerns
  2. Direct Operations
  3. Indirect Operations
  4. Supply Chain

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From Gitmo To A Place Near YOU!: All That Glitters Is Not Gold

June 12th, 2014

It appears that the “powers-to-be” cannot find countries (allies) who are willing to take the remainder of the terrorist/prisoners currently being held at the Military Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. So, they, the “powers-to-be”, are looking at prisons here in the Continental United States (CONUS) where they can incarcerate these troublesome terrorist/prisoners.

Politicians of all stripes have sounded off about the capabilities of American prisons to hold these “prisoners”, specifically prisons which are located in their electoral districts. I am not faulting them for trying to bring jobs and money into their electoral districts during these tough times. All Americans know that certain areas of this country are experiencing extemely hard times during the recession. Yet, as much as these (Prison) jobs will bring money into a community, there are very dangerous “downsides” to having these terrorist/prisoners in the United States in any locality.

I know that my stance on this issue might provoke some of you, but I hope that you understand I am making that stance because I care about you, who work in the field. If I did not care, I would sit back and not say anything.

There are numerous concerns that, in my opinion, “MUST” be addressed before any terrorist/prisoner is moved to the CONUS from Gitmo. I will only address the concerns that I believe are the most pressing in this article.

While America’s Maximum Prisons are the best in the world, they were meant to incarcerate criminals, not terrorists and all of the challenges associated with terrorists/prisoners. First and foremost, I believe, they are extremely vulnerable to direct assault from without. I, personally, do not believe that there is a state prison or local jail that could repel a direct attack on its perimeter by a heavily armed, well trained, para-military team. There are several reasons for this particular vulnerability:

  1. Lack of policies and procedures addressing how staff should should handle the following:
    • What to do if the institution comes under attack
    • Visiting
    • Classification (seeing that they do not have any “criminal” charges, or discharge dates, etc.)
    • Mailroom protocols for receiving incoming mail to the terrorist/prisoners
    • Staffing levels and training curricula
  2. No specialized training on how to repel a direct assault on the institution:
    • Lack of training in military tactics (Cover and Concealment, Escape and Evasion, Cover Fire, Counter-Sniper, etc.)
    • Lack of training and staff to deal with a coordinated, simultaneous, multi-targeted attack on an institution. (Main-Gate, Vehicle Sally-Port, Visitor Reception Area)
  3. Rules of Engagement / Use of Force issues are extremely complex and varied:
    • They must be thoroughly thought out PRIOR to moving any terrorist/inmates
    • It would be a shame if there was an attack on a correctional institution and afterwords correctional employees found themselves charged with serious crimes because of the actions they took during the attack
    • When can deadly force be used
  4. Insufficient weaponry, perimeter protection, and outside patrols:
    • Terrorists could have explosives, automatic weapons, light and heavy weapons, armor piercing ammunition propelled grenades RPG’s
    • There is the possibility of suicide bombers and/or vehicle bombs
  5. External environmental issues:
    • Support cells, intelligence gathering cells, intimidation of staff both at work and at home,etc.
    • Like gang members, terrorist groups will have their supporters. They will settle near the prison (s) where their colleagues are being held.
  6. Now the $64,000.00 question: On what “criminal charges” will these
    terrorist/prisoners be held????????????????????????????????

I do not have any doubt that American Prisons and correctional personnel can manage terrorist/prisoners, given all of the proper tools. The proper tools in my opinion span the gamut, from laws and policies, to weapons and training.

Jobs are important and I know that, but so is the well being of an entire community, its schools, nursing homes, churches and synagogues. There is the possibility that by bringing terrorist/prisoners into a community, the entire community could be at risk!

People and communities must THINK and weigh all of the short term and long term advantages and disadvantages of having terrorist/prisoners in their community.

Mt. Sturgeon is a decorated Vietnam veteran who served with the 101st Airborne Division.

Visit the Bill Sturgeon page

Other articles by Sturgeon:

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Starting the New Year On the Right Foot

January 11th, 2013

When was the last time your organization did a comprehensive “Operational Review” of your security policies and procedures? While many organizations conduct paper reviews to satisfy oversight agencies, very few conduct actual “Operational Reviews” to assess “Operational Functionality” of the policies and procedures.

Throughout my career I have conducted numerous “Security Audits”. During many of these audits I found that many organizations had wonderfully written policies and procedures, but they were operationally impractical.

My definition of “Operational Review” is where the staff, first line supervisors, and management select security policies and assess them to determine the following:

  1. Are they “Operationally Functional”?
  2. Are they still relevant “as written”, or do they need to be revised or retired?
  3. Is the staff following the policies and procedures “as written”?
  4. Due to changes in operations and/or security levels or other concerns, is there a need for new policies and procedures?
  5. Does the staff know the policies and procedures?
  6. Has the staff – at every level – been trained in the security policies and procedures?

The next step is to conduct interviews with the staff to ascertain if they:

  1. Are using the policies and procedures as written (if they are not, why not)

    • They do not “function” as written
    • They are outdated
  2. Have any suggestions on how to improve the P&P’s to make them more “user friendly” and “Operationally Functional”
  3. Are followed on every shift – as written (Does the staffing level affect how policies are followed?)

It is crucial for the staff to be able to use the policies and procedures, as they are written, to perform their duties. Failure to do so can create legal problems for the organization (There is no defense for violating your own policies and procedures.). Additionally, not having “Operationally Functional” policies and procedures can create dysfunction and inconsistencies within the security operations, thereby creating a “weak link” in the overall security operations.

For years I have been a strong proponent for “Operationally Functional” policies and procedure because policies and procedures are the administration’s mechanism for informing its people how it wants the security operation to function.

Ambiguous, vague, and/or wordy policies and procedures can leave large loopholes for “line staff” to interpret the “true” meaning of the policy, and what procedures they must follow. However, I admit that there may be situations where the line staff must use their own initiative to manage the situation. My concern is when the “line staff” has to employ their “own means” to fulfill their duties and responsibilities,. …. the “exception becomes the rule”.

When the “exception become the rule”, the administration really DOES NOT know what is going on within its security operations.

It is a new year, a fresh beginning therefore, take this opportunity to start “TODAY” to put together a team to conduct an “Operational Review” of your security policies and procedures. At the end of the process, all involved will have:

  1. A more comprehensive understanding of the security policies and procedures.
  2. The assurance that the policies and procedures are up-to-date with the security operations of the organization.
  3. The satisfaction of knowing that staff at all levels will have contributed to the review.

One other thing I found when reviewing security policies and procedures was that “old” security policies and procedures were rarely retired. My definition for retiring a policy is to take it out of the active security manual and archive it.


Policies and procedures are the written guidelines, approved by management, that instruct the staff on how to perform their duties and responsibilities. Insuring that the staff follows them is the job of management and supervisors.

Keeping security policies and procedures up-to-date and “relevant “ is not an easy job but one that must be done. The time to find out a security policy or procedure does not work or that the staff does not know how to implement it is not during an emergency!

I hope all of you have a Happy and Secure New Year!

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The Greening of Prisons

May 29th, 2012

My longtime friend and colleague, Tommy Norris, is managing Tommy and I have been friends for over 30 years, and during that time, we both have seen dramatic changes in the world of corrections. When Tommy first discussed introducing Green Technology into the correctional world, I thought it was a brilliant idea, and something that correctional institutions must initiate.

The nation’s correctional agencies are finding out that the traditional operational budgets are being reduced. America, and the world, has found itself in a seriously recessive economy; channeling funds to correctional facilities is being curtailed.

Being a somewhat skeptical old security guy, I thought about the best approach for introducing Green Materials, Technologies, Methods, etc., into the world of correctional facilities, as well as the long term and short term savings for such a transition. One thing I have found is that just because something has been labeled “Green” does not mean it will save “operational” funds for correctional facilities.

I have a blog on entitled “View From the Porch” from the “Old Man”. I have reached an age, with years of experience and attitude, to say what I feel. So, here goes!

Every time people try to do something – anything new in a correctional setting- the naysayers go into a full defensive posture! Their battle cry is “That’ll Never Work Here”! Believe me, good intentioned people; I have lived through three significant transitional movements during my correctional career:

The introduction of technology

The introduction of computers for offender use

The introduction of “Direct Supervision”

Each of the three was fraught with unforeseen potholes. I am going to briefly explain some of the more challenging potholes we found, so that my colleagues associated with will be prepared, as well as those companies who will be installing the new green products.

Introduction of Technology

About 30 plus years ago, technology was overtaking the civilian world by storm. While this might seem trite, I can remember the first major change. For years and years, an adding machine (Look it up on Google, if you don’t know what it is.) was in the Captain’s Office. This “Honored and Venerable” machine was the official instrument used to tally the 4 daily counts. The Lieutenant would operate the keys with the Captain closely watching the result. A long stream of paper would fall over the edge of the Lieutenant’s desk. These long streams of paper would then be rolled-up and kept IN THE SAFE – forever!

That “Honorable and Venerable” adding machine was retired, and replaced by an “ELECTRONIC CALCULATOR”. Oh, how the correctional world would never be the same! Within two days, the Deputy Warden for Security was inundated with complaints about this incompetent, electronic demon that was so disrupting correctional security. I relate this story to illustrate how the smallest change to the daily routine in a correctional environment can become a monster.

The second example I want to share with you about the implementation of technology in a correctional environment deals with fence penetration devices. The “operative words” in the previous statement are “Correctional Environment. “

Initially, correctional administrators enjoyed being shown the “Top Shelf” High Tech fence penetration devices, similar to those used on “Top Secret” military installations. Oh, the wonder of it all they thought. They could do away with perimeter patrols and every other gun tower – the “silver bullet” had arrived. Then reality hit when the administrators learned the cost of this new technology. There was no way they could go to their legislatures or governors to ask for that kind of money.

So these administrators went to their local electronic stores and bought off-the-shelf electronics similar to those used to keep your dog in the yard. Needless to say, they didn’t work, and the staff soon found ways of disarming them, which continuously generated false alarms.

Introduction of Computers to the Offender Population

Before permitting computers in correctional facilities for use by offenders, the “LINE STAFF “ was never consulted for their input. The offender population was getting new computers and hours of instruction on how to use them. Yet, the staff did not have any computers and had no idea of how to use them. This created more problems than you could imagine. For the sake of time, I will only explain what I believe were the most important mistakes.

Before introducing computers into the secure facility, there should have been thorough vetting by the security staff. Unfortunately, the security staff at that time lacked any training, knowledge and/or understanding of how computers worked. It wasn’t long before the offenders were more knowledgeable about computers than the staff.

Before the correctional staff caught on, the offenders were making passes, stamps, food stamps, and accessing the Internet using their computers.

Introduction of “Direct Supervision”

Today, “Direct Supervision” is a way of life, but when the concept was first introduced, it caused a great deal of consternation among the line staff.

Some administrators and “Direct Supervision” zealots, in my opinion, “overpromised” the cost savings in the areas of staff reductions and staff efficiency.

Administrators did not, in my opinion, explain the entire concept of what “Direct Supervision” was about. Line supervisors and staff cranked-up the rumor mill, because no one shared the “FACTS” with them.

The officers’ workstation would be located inside the cellblock. “Holy moly Batman”, this will never work; officers will be taken hostage, assaulted, raped, killed.

The administrators did not take the time to explain the entire concept such as:

Offender classification

Response teams

Disciplinary action

There was training available from the National Institute of Corrections. While this training did touch on some of the issues that the line staffs were facing, it, in my opinion, did not address the operational issues being faced by the line staff. After a substantial amount of wasted energy and time, the “Direct Supervision” concept finally became a successful reality.

Offenders Get Cable TV

In the 1980’s a Christian group was going to pay for the installation of cable television into a major penitentiary. Their goal was to bring Christian programing to the offenders. What a marvelous idea, right? No, wrong!

Needless to say, some of the staff went through the ceiling. Inmates getting cable TV! What would be next, etc., etc.! Some of the outlets would actually be in the cells, with the remainder being in every dayroom. What they forgot was that there weren’t any arrangements made, including the TV cable outlets, for any of the staff areas. While this was a major blunder, it was not the most significant one.

The installation company made the most significant blunder. They did not fully understand that doing “anything” in a secure prison setting is very time consuming, The installation company also did not fully understand the concepts of tool control, and moving from inside the secure area to outside to get something from their trucks.

The installation company’s employees became victims of being ‘gamed’ by the offenders. They were caught bringing in cigarettes, mailing letters for the inmates, bringing letters to the inmates, etc.

Why, you may be asking, did I write this lengthy introduction? It is because we must learn from past mistakes. I believe that the “Greening” of the nation’s correctional environment has to happen, and I don’t want the mistakes of the past to curtail the process in any way.

Suggestions / Recommendations

The following suggestions to any / all correctional agencies and companies should be acted upon prior to entering into any “Green” projects.

Identify the entire project

Conduct a comprehensive product search (Do a complete check into any of the companies that sell the product that you are looking to use.)

Have the company define the projected cost savings in writing

Define the entire scope of the job IN DETAIL

Include all training in the purchase price

Insure that, if necessary, repair technicians can be on-site in X number of hours. Have the vendors identify who and where the repair services are located.


I have found that the best way to check on a product, company, etc., is to interview “similar” type agencies to ascertain the level of their satisfaction.


This isn’t your father and mother’s correctional environment. We in the field of criminal justice, and corrections in particular, must search out and implement technologies that will help reduce operational costs, but at the same time, increase sustainability and efficiency.

Here is one last word of caution. Prior to purchasing or installing “ANYTHING” new to a correctional environment, make sure that a “COMPLETE” security assessment is conducted. There are fences, walls, gun towers, security gates, cameras, etc., to keep the offenders in and the would-be attackers out.

Now, with the introduction of technology, we must insure that those “electronic systems” are as secure as our physical perimeters. It is my belief that cyber attacks will be (is) a serious security concern that needs immediate attention.

While I have pointed out some issues that could lead some of the readers to believe that I am against “Greening and Sustainability” of correctional facilities. Nothing could be further from the truth. Correctional agencies “MUST” find way of reducing operating costs.

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Checking for Tunnels

March 12th, 2012

When was the last time you checked for tunnels leading to and from your facility? This may appear to be an extreme question to people in many industrialized nations, and it may well be. Yet, if I were still involved in the day-to-day security operations of a correctional facility, I would certainly be conducting security checks for tunnels, and here is why.

Throughout the world, from the Middle East to the Mexican Border, tunnels have become a method of moving contraband and people. Today’s tunnels span the gamut from crude and dangerous to highly sophisticated. Some tunnels have airflow systems, electricity, and they are large enough to operate a small motorized vehicle.

It is a safe bet that in certain areas within the United States and throughout the world there are offenders who have experience in constructing tunnels. However, there is a lack of understanding and experience in uncovering tunnels, I believe, among correctional personnel in many industrialized nations, to include the United States.

There are experts available to teach correctional personnel how to search for tunnels. These experts can be found in the U.S. military and in the United States Border Patrol. The U.S. Border Patrol has uncovered tunnels for many years and has been exposed to every type of tunnel imaginable.

Those of us in the field of criminal justice have to continue to keep adapting our tactics to the changing world around us. It is my belief that methods and techniques that are used in the Middle East, Europe, China, Africa, etc., by terrorists and criminals will eventually be used in the United States.

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Escapes from a facility

Holidays Are Dangerous Times Within Correctional Facilities

December 14th, 2011

The holiday season in prisons and jails is a dangerous time. In this article we will take a look at the types of dangerous situations that come along with the holidays.

During the holiday season the offender population becomes antsy, angry, sad, and remorseful along with every other emotion one can think of…. even though correctional facilities and staff go above and beyond to make the holiday season as pleasant as possible for the offenders. Life is much different today than in the old days, when at Christmas the doors of the correctional facilities were ‘opened’ and some offenders were paroled.

Being incarcerated during the holiday season is difficult for everyone:

  • The Staff
  • The Offenders (Most especially first timers)
  • The Offenders’ Immediate and Extended Families

While the holidays are supposed to be a joyous time as they are portrayed in movies and on television, the reality does not always mirror the fantasy. For some people, the holiday season is very difficult emotionally. This emotional turbulence affects not only offenders, but staff also. Too often we forget that staff are as vulnerable as offenders to the trials and tribulations of life.

Suggestions for staff members to help them get through the holidays:

  • Take control of situations – Don’t let situations take control of you.
  • Prioritize your life. What do you “HAVE” to do? Remember, work should take a high priority. If you go to work tired, with a hangover, or with non-work related things on your mind, you are risking your own well-being and that of your fellow employees and offenders.
  • Let your family and friends know your work schedule and other time commitments, so that they will not pressure you into doing you into over-committing yourself.
  • Get your rest!

Offender Issues

If you have worked corrections for any length of time, you know that the holiday season can be difficult. Offenders, who are normally compliant, become testy or even violent.

During the holiday season, security concerns become magnified because of the emotional behaviors of the offenders.

Security issues to be concerned about:

  • Be on the lookout for suicide. Review the signs and symptoms of suicide. Talk to the offenders under your supervision. If you suspect that an offender “MAY” be suicidal, immediately get some help. It is better to be cautious than have a suicide on your watch.
  • Be on the lookout for escape attempts. The holiday season triggers offenders to do senseless things, like trying to escape. “If I could have just spent Christmas Dinner with my kids.” (Offender caught during a Christmas morning escape attempt.)
  • Insure that you are not complacent. Fighting complacency during the holiday season is a constant issue. Everyone (Staff) is busy with their own lives and the holiday season for civilians is usually a pleasant time. It is easy for staff to be complacent and let security procedures slide.
  • Homemade Booze, Hooch, Pruno, etc., is always a problem in correctional facilities during the holiday season. Unfortunately, when Hooch is added to a correctional environment, normally docile offenders can become combative and/or suicidal. Administrators, Line Supervisors, and Staff should be conducting shake-downs in an effort to find the Hooch before it is consumed by the offenders.
  • Be alert during and after visitation periods. Insure that the officers who are supervising the visiting area report any/all of the following incidents to the living area officer:
    • Suspicious activity
    • Strange behavior demonstrated by visitors or offenders
    • Any emotional outburst by either visitors or offenders (Crying, arguing, threatening behavior, etc.)


The holiday season presents some intensified security concerns in correctional facilities. I have tried to outline the issues that I have encountered during my years in the field.

I want to emphasize the point that you should get sufficient rest during the holiday period. You should not go into work tired. Balancing life is especially difficult during the holiday season, but it is crucial that you try.

My experiences with security issues that have arisen during the holiday season have one thing in common – They were spontaneous. The 101st Airborne Division has the saying “Stay Alert – Stay Alive”!

Happy Holidays!

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Security Operations, Uncategorized

Hostage Negotiations and Terrorism Part Two –July 5, 2011

July 26th, 2011

Since the writing of Part One of Hostage Negotiations and Terrorism, another “Terrorist-Hostage” incident has taken place. The Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan was attacked.

Six hours later, at least 21 people were dead, including the  nine suicide bombers who managed to penetrate several rings of security on Tuesday night to carry out the attack. The assault has shaken public confidence in the ability of  Afghan forces, especially the police, to assume responsibility for security, even here in the capital. [1]

I believe the above excerpt from the June 30, 2011, New York Times so vividly describes the terrorist attack on the Intercontinental Hotel that it can be used as a “teaching model”.  It encompasses issues that emergency management professionals should consider when designing a plan for Hostage Negotiations and Terrorism strategies.

Let us break down the incident into its elements and see what we can learn. Read more…

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Hostage Negotiations and Terrorism Part One –June 15, 2011

June 21st, 2011 received an email asking if there was a definitive training program on hostage negotiations. When contacted by the people at, I was quick to answer yes, there are several good hostage negotiations training programs. My long time friend, Joe Marchese, has taught hostage negotiations for over 35 years and he is a person whom I consider to be an expert on the topic.

Post September 11,  2001, we were forced to re-think and re-tool most of our operational policies and procedures. I began to search the Internet looking for new hostage negotiations courses and/or hostage cases where terrorists took hostages.

Most of the materials I found were dated training materials. These courses included techniques for hostage negotiations that I taught when I was an academy instructor.

Most of the US government materials stressed the philosophy of “We do not negotiate with terrorists”, and “We do not release prisoners as part of negotiating with terrorists, etc., etc.”

Being the type of “Nitti / Gritty” person that I am, I was looking for specific procedural / operational recommendations. Again, all I found was that we do not negotiate with hostage takers and/or terrorists.

I took a break to watch a documentary Terror In Mumbai , an HBO Special. As I watched this documentary, I realized that corrections must take a step back and look at today’s current realities.

In reality there are terrorists in prisons all over the world, to include America. They have friends who want to break them out of prison, and the techniques that worked in the past perhaps, will not work now or in the future. Another reality is that if there is an incident at a prison, there is a good chance that there will be another incident going on somewhere else (in that facility) that will draw resources and create more confusion.

The possibility of correctional personnel and/or visitors being taken hostage has always existed and most correctional agencies are prepared to manage these traditional situations.

The reality today is that the hostage takers could be terrorists, not criminals. (I believe that there is a distinct difference between the two – Topic for another blog.) Terrorist-hostage takers have demonstrated over and over their readiness to kill their hostages as well as their own willingness to die for their cause. In the Beslan School Hostage Crisis (Russia), 344 civilians died during the incident. Some of the victims, who were children, were raped, tortured and murdered.

I believe that these factors alone require that criminal justice agencies across the nation establish different tactics and strategies for dealing with terrorist-hostage takers.

The question now is, how many local criminal justice agencies have even thought of preparing a plan to deal with terrorist-hostage takers?

A terrorist-hostage taking situation can happen in a correctional facility, school, police station, shopping mall, and/or hospital. It can happen in any sized community as it did in Beslan, Russia.

Being an old emergency planner and operations person, I thought about the differences that a terrorist/ hostage situation would  manifest. This is the list I developed:

  • In the majority of cases, the terrorist -hostage takers are willing to die for their causes and/or beliefs.
  • Many of the terrorist- hostage takers have received military training.
  • Many terrorist-hostage takers have received training in bomb making using household products. Also, they have received training in how to make Improvised Explosive Devices (I.E.D.)
  • Some terrorist-hostage takers believe that by killing the hostages and themselves, they will receive additional media coverage and be rewarded in the afterlife.
  • Some of the terrorist-hostage takers have received training in (counter) negotiating techniques. (Be aware that the terrorist-hostage takers may be playing games and stalling for time.)
  • Terrorist-hostage takers will stretch-out the situation as long as possible so that they can gain as much publicity as possible.
  • Terrorist-hostage takers have been known to create multiple incidents so as to exhaust and confuse authorities.

Each of the above issues I believe have various degrees of separation from the traditional (criminal/prisoner) hostage taker. If one goes back and reviews traditional hostage situations, it is easy to see that there are certain similarities for traditional correctional hostage situations:

  • Mentally ill inmate (s)
  • Foiled escape
    • Living conditions
    • Healthcare
    • Inmate safety
    • Food
    • Abusive treatment by staff
    • Cleanliness of living areas, etc.
  • In an effort to escape by taking a staff member (s) hostage.
  • The traditional inmate (s) has no desire to die, unlike the terrorist-hostage takers.

Suggestions – Tactics to Consider

The following suggestions and points to consider have been developed from research that I have done. I have tried to examine terrorist-hostage incidents to determine what I would have done if I were in-charge.

> Contain the incident as quickly as possible.

> Determine if the hostage-takers have a terrorist background.

> As quickly as possible, have Special Response Team (s) respond to the incident with appropriate equipment and weapons.

> Immediately start to determine a plan for assaulting the terrorist-hostage takers. In other hostage situations, the terrorist-hostage takers have been know to kill or torture the hostage right at the beginning of the incident. (Correctional facilities, hospitals, malls, justice centers such as jails and courthouses, should have pre-arranged assault plans for every area of the facilities.)

> As quickly as possible, set-up video recording equipment, listening devices, etc., in an effort to gain as much “real life / real time” intelligence on what the terrorist-hostage takers are talking about, planning, and how they are treating the hostages.

> As quickly as possible, determine the primary and a secondary assault plan.

> Have at least two comprehensive escape plans in the event things go wrong.

> Be prepared for the unexpected. (Terrorist-hostage takers may have set booby traps or other
devices or employ techniques to injure, kill or
capture members of the assault team. Yes, they
would capture members of the assault team and
add them and their radios and other equipment to
the bounty.)

> Use a variety of technologies to observe the terrorist-hostage takers to determine:
> Their strength
> Their (Weapons being used)
> The number of hostages (Try to identify agency personnel)
> Their location (s)  (Be specific)
> Possible traps (Look for booby traps)
> Lighting (Use lighting as a weapon)
> Locked doors
> Their primary and secondary assault plans
> Their escape plan (s)

> The assault should include:
> Diversion (s)
> Speed
> A well trained team (s) carrying out the assault
> Appropriate weapons, less than lethal if necessary. Lethal weapons if justified.
> Lethal weapons (snipers etc.) give cover from external areas.

> Ancillary personnel assembly area (s) (Do not have all of the emergency personnel assembled in one spot, because then they become a target.)
> Fire service
> Ambulance (EMS)
> Hospital on alert for mass causalities
> Other law enforcement /correctional personnel

> Establish a security perimeter around the assembly area (s)

> The facility personnel should use all of its utility resources, such as HVAC, water, lighting, sound, toilets, to give it the edge and keep the terrorist hostage takers off guard and to disrupt their plans.

The possibility of terrorist-hostage takers in today’s world is very real. The purpose of this article is to have agencies think about how they would deal with hostage incidents where terrorists are the hostage takers.

In several of the incidents that I researched for this article, it became clear to me that terrorist-hostage takers are mentally, emotionally and psychologically prepared to kill the hostages. Knowing this in advance should alert agencies to have a rapid response plan.

Part Two of this of this article will address the following areas:
> External influences
> Perimeter
> Over response

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Can America Continue to Operate Its Prisons

February 21st, 2011

Can America Continue to Operate Its Prisons


A 1990’s Speech Comes True

In the 1990’s I was asked to give a speech at the Mid-Atlantic Correctional Association’s Annual Conference. For those of you who remember the late 1980’s and 1990’s, new prisons (jails) were being built all over the country. We were in the middle of the correctional industrial revolution.

As I prepared my speech, I began thinking about the high cost of building all of these new prisons (jails), not to mention how costly it was going to be to operate them.

Also, I was concerned about the way prisons were being used. The number of people with mental illnesses coming into the prisons (jails) was growing every year.

Politicians were looking at prisons (jails) as employment opportunities for their constituents without realizing the future costs. I really do not think they could have imagined the high cost of operating prisons (jails).

I believed then, (and we are experiencing it now) that he high costs associated with operating prisons (jails) would have such a negative affect on state budgets. The cost today associated with operating prisons (jails) is preventing the states from spending money on schools, roads, bridges, other infrastructure projects, university systems, etc.

California is by far the most publicized, but certainly not the only state having challenging problems paying for its correctional system. As with most state correctional systems, the California system is overcrowded with no real operational plan to resolve its overcrowding and other operational problems. Building new prisons is out of the question.

The nation’s correctional systems have for the past two plus decades seen a continuous flow of prisoners going in, and nothing more than a trickling stream of prisoners coming out. One must also mention the unbelievable recidivism rate of 70%.

The “3 Strikes and You Are Out Law”, “Rockefeller Drug Laws”, mandated sentencing, and numerous other laws that were once heralded as being tough on crime, I believe, are major contributing factors to the overcrowding of American prisons, and thereby increasing the operational costs.

Having the “Three Strikes and You’re Out” turned on the field of corrections.

The joke was on the system Strike One: The building of new prisons in the last century rather than examining and implementing ways to reduce crime.  Also, those involved in building these new prisons (jails) appeared not to comprehend that the building of these prisons was the only fixed cost, which was in the millions. They could not have understood that operational costs would continue to increase every year.

Strike Two: The enactment of the laws with no regard for what the cost of these laws would be to enforce and what would these laws would resolve.

Strike Three: Not having the foresight to understand that they could not build their way out of criminal/social/mental health /addiction problems that are part of society.

The Time Has Come To Act. The time has come to act. I believe that as a nation we have to initiate a “Think Tank” to start to answer the many questions confronting the field of corrections. This “Think Tank” should:

– Consist of experts from various fields of study: business, criminal justice, mental health, additions, medical, social and psychological, etc.

 State Departments of Corrections should conduct detailed analysis of the following:

  • Look at what assets the department of corrections has now (buildings, programs, personnel, recidivism rates, etc.)
  • Determine what is working and what is not working (This determination should be done using scientifically sound evaluation methods. There cannot be any sacred cows.)
  • Reexamine the rationale of keeping people with moderate to severe mental health issues in prisons where they do not receive the care, compassion, life skills, or rehabilitation that they need. There are agencies than can confine and treat people with mental health issues better than most prisons (jails).
  • Reexamine the way the nation treats drug addicts and alcoholics. Determine whether keeping them locked-up in high cost prisons (jails), with little to no programming for their problems, is the most efficient way of dealing with them. There are agencies than can confine and treat addicts and alcoholics better than most prisons (jails).
  • Examine the concept of closing down out of date, energy inefficient prisons and constructing “temporary” energy efficient prisons. I say “temporary” because the ultimate goal is to reduce inmate populations nationwide.
  • Examine how many inmates could be released to less expensive halfway houses, pre-release and/or rehabilitation centers, parole, or some new approach that has yet to be discovered, etc. Corrections continues to use methods and programs that do not work – have not worked for years. There are those who believe that these ineffective programs are better than nothing.
  • Discontinue programs that are not achieving predetermined goals (Anyone who has worked in corrections for a few years knows that there are programs that just are not working and that the personnel and funding for the non-performing or underperforming programs could be put to a better use.)
  • Reinstitute vocational training programs for inmates who demonstrate an aptitude and interest for such training. Some of the funding for these programs could come from programs that were eliminated
  • Reinstitute educational classes for inmates who demonstrate an ability and interest.
  • Carefully develop well designed, energy and operationally efficient prisons to replace the old inefficient prisons which are costing millions of dollars to operate and maintain.

(Architects in the past have designed the prison (jail) versions of the Taj Mahal, thereby driving up costs of   new prison projects. During the boom, architects were hired to design prisons (jails) that have had zero experience in designing prisons). I remember interviewing an architectural firm who said to me, “we have built dozens of motels what is the difference?”

I have articulated the above observations, comments and suggestions as a means of starting a dialogue before the time comes when states can no longer afford to keep offenders in prisons (jails) and are forced to release them.

The nation’s recidivism rate is around 70%, so obviously the nation’s prison systems are broken, yet the states continue to pump millions of dollars into them. One has to ask, what if a significant portion of the money spent to build new prisons (jails) was spent to develop more efficient and productive correctional systems?

If the real truth were known, the majority of  America’s prisons (jails) are nothing more than warehouses for criminals. An extremely dangerous sub-culture has developed over the years. This subculture consists of gangs, violent young offenders many of whom have been groomed in juvenile corrections and on the streets. There are also older seasoned offenders who orchestrate criminal initiatives and other nefarious activities.   

While amazing people, including administrators and staff, work to maintain order and keep the lid on, the time is quickly approaching when all the negatives reach a critical mass. Overcrowding, staff to inmate ratio, lack of offender programming, deteriorating prisons (jails), and lack of funding will meet and create a perfect storm.

The solutions to the problems facing corrections will not be easy nor will the answers to the multitude of questions that will bombard those brave enough and thoughtful enough to work on them. We arrived here, I believe, because rather than confront the real issues facing the field of corrections back in the 1970’s, 80’s, and 90’s, we took the path of least resistance and built more prisons, hired more correctional officers and other staff, and passed more senseless laws without giving any thought to the long range implications of these solutions of least resistance.

I know that much of what I have written in this article will be disputed and corrected by those who are entrenched in the various systems, or who have some financial interest in the current way corrections is being done. I, however, stand by what I have written and believe it to be correct. The time will come when the cost of operating prisons will become so overwhelming that that states’ will have to release prisoners.

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Tight Budgets Will Influence Jails and Prisons Operations

January 25th, 2011

The title of this article is self-explanatory. Of course tight budgets will influence the operations of criminal justice agencies. The more important questions are these. How severely will the operations be influenced and for how long?


Throughout my many years in the field of criminal justice, I have lived through many instances of tight budgets. In the old days we survived these budgets cuts by tweaking this and that, not filling vacant positions (hiring freeze), shutting off lights, taking every other fluorescent light bulb out, and canceling all travel, etc.


My concern now is that governmental bodies are in reality running out of cash to operate criminal justice agencies, especially correctional facilities. While there is a great deal of rhetoric by our politicians at every level of government, as of the writing of this article, nothing substantive has been presented to solve the nation’s (world’s) economic problems.

The differences between the budget crises that I experienced and today’s budget crises are these:


Ø The duration of this budget crisis promises to be far longer than any of those I experienced.


Ø Additionally, when the economy does start to come back, criminal justice operations, especially corrections, will be the last to enjoy it.


Ø There will be the loss and/or serious reduction of federal and state grants.


Ø Not being prepared could prove to be disastrous.

Read more…

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