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Thoughts from the command center: Strategizing for control
By Joseph J. Marchese
Published: 06/04/2007

Command In part one, columnist Joe Marchese discusses implementing a four C plan to manage riot, hostage and facility take-over situations. The first two tactics, confine and contain, are also discusses. In part two, next week, consolidate and control are explored, along with initial response training protocols.

One of the most significant findings in the McKay Commission report on the 1971 hostage situation at the Attica Correctional Facility in upstate New York had to do with the magnitude of the inmate take over. While Attica had emergency plans for minor insurrections, it did not have a plan for the type of large scale inmate take over that occurred.

While the insurrection at Attica happened more than 35 years ago, this same comment continues to appear in official reports on facility disturbances. The need to prevent large facility takeovers is one of the most important lessons we have learned from history and therefore must be reflected in the development of every facility emergency response plan.

Battling to regain control of facility areas taken over by inmates is a game of inches and is best addressed proactively by limiting the area seized in the first place. When an inmate disturbance spreads from one area to another, each section of lost ground represents additional challenges for responders.

For example, if an inmate disturbance moves from a recreation yard into a housing unit, the inmates gain additional “staying power” by having fortification and water and by recruiting the additional inmates. If the incident spreads from a housing unit to a kitchen area any additional supplies, weapons, etc. further complicates the situation by removing the facility’s ability to feed those not involved.

As other areas come under inmate control, the overall takeover of the entire facility becomes more likely. Thus, how the initial response to a facility disturbance is handled will directly impact the magnitude of the situation.

Among the best initial responses to an emergency incident has its roots with the New York Police Department and is called the Four Cs: confine, contain, consolidate and control. This involves confining the incident to the smallest possible area, containing the incident or keeping it there, achieving unity of command by consolidating all responding personnel and resources through a command post, and controlling the incident through an incident commander located at a central command post.


A swift response to an incident must be accomplished with existing staff. Correctional administrators rarely have the good fortune to have a tactical team available within the first minutes of an incident. Even if the duty officer was that lucky, it is doubtful that the team could be deployed rapidly enough to stop the incident from spreading.

Therefore, the most prudent approach is to confine the incident with existing staff that are well trained to recognize triggering events and also execute procedures for rapid incident confinement. Similar to a collision drill on a ship, each officer must know what to do to confine the incident.

To use the ship analogy sailors must quickly close water-tight doors so the breach does not result in losing the entire ship. Therefore from the first report of the incident the incident commander (usually the duty officer) must begin the process of confining the incident. Staff must perform the confinement tasks immediately, and in some instances without being given orders, simply by recognizing pre-determined triggers and executing predetermined actions.

The confinement phase involves establishing an inner perimeter designed to keep all disturbance activities inside. A combination of security devices and staff deployment can accomplish this. No one opens or closes gates or leaves the inner perimeter without the approval of the facility or incident commander. The confinement is a short-term measure that will be followed up, if necessary, by the other three Cs.


Once an incident is confined, it must be contained, or keep it where it is. The containment phase involves establishing at least two perimeters, inner and outer. Inner ones focus on keeping people inside the incident area and may include a secondary inner perimeter also serving as a back up. The outer perimeter keeps unauthorized persons out of the area. This is especially important if a possible threat of outside assistance, as in an assisted escape or terrorist event, exists.

This phase can involve several layers of outer perimeter security that push the boundaries out from the incident to increase incident control and management. Once the initial outer perimeter is established, additional layers can be added. They could be set at points outside the buildings, outside the fences, roadways, air space and other accesses to the facility. The goal is to avert the arrival of any party that can inadvertently or intentionally adversely impact the incident.

Joseph J. Marchese is a nationally recognized consultant in the area of emergency preparedness planning, hostage negotiations, and terrorist/gang management. Since 1978 he has been an advocate for the development of comprehensive emergency plans for correctional facilities. He has more than 38 years of experience in the criminal justice field, and retired as a Deputy Director of Criminal Justice for the NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services in December of 2006. Marchese has served as a police officer, investigator/senior investigator, certified police trainer and criminal justice consultant, and has been training and consulting on emergency planning and hostage negotiations since 1978.


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