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In Praise of Instant Communications
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 09/12/2011

2 way radio Some news really takes us by surprise. An example of this is the August 23, 2011 earthquake with the epicenter in Virginia.

Being approximately 800 linear miles from the epicenter, I was not directly impacted. However, there were reports of tremors from as far away as Detroit. In this earthquake post mortem, Still, distance did not mitigate the fact that I had a personal stake in the tectonic activity. I had two good friends (and trusted colleagues) from Virginia who may have been in harm’s way.

Years ago, to find out about the safety of someone far away, it would be a touch and go situation with a telephone. Upon hearing about the earthquake, I sent out a quick email. With today’s technology, I was able to get some answers in a near instant. One of my friends e-mailed back within a minute and announced his safety.

One of our chief tools in maintaining order in the prison is communications. I believe that communications is a weapon in the war against disorder. Without communications, our efforts are blunted. Here are some incarnations of exchanging information.

Audio – There are two basic instant communication methods are aided by electronics. They are personal protection devices (PPDs) and radios.

Consider the personal protection device. Some may call it a panic button, others may use a more colloquial term. Nevertheless, its utility is valuable. If you’re in distress, you pull the pin and a signal sounds in central control. Instantly, the equipment reveals the location of the duress.

The other method of instant audio communications is an old mainstay - the radio. A mentor of mine once used the radio when a prisoner was becoming agitated in the school building. He depressed of the microphone button and said that a specifically named prisoner is being sent back to his unit now. That was an instant message to all staff that had radios. They were to be on the lookout for a specific prisoner leaving the school building. And the prisoner got some instant communications, too. The offender realized that he had little choice but to leave immediately.

In a nonemergency setting, the utility of the radio played forth again this week for me. One lieutenant used his radio to announce that all computers had to be shut down for line maintenance. It was true that this was not a life-threatening event. It was just a matter of proper maintenance of equipment. Some staff who had radios after hearing the transmission utilized another communication skill – the verbal. They went around their respective areas to see if others without radios had received the message.

Video – Communication does not always have to be in sound or words. For example, live-action cameras convey what is going on in real time. I do recall my first week inside the prison when one offender tried to knock me off my square by stating he had seen cameras like the ones in the prison at toy stores. Of course, that was a subtle intimidation tactic that was amply transparent, even to neophytes. The cameras certainly were not from a toy store. As the years rolled on, those cameras have demonstrated quite a utility. The presence of a camera suggests to all that lines of safety are strengthened by communications.

Electronic word – Just as an e-mail can be utilized to check up on friends in Virginia, so, too can emails be used to disseminate useful information department-wide. Some examples of messages that are instant are a lockdown at a local school, a threat in the outside world from a security threat group, and imminent thunderstorm or tornado.

Even with all the advances in modern electric miracles, it comes down to staff using them properly. It is very important to remember that there are several different vines that you need to contact. Also, there is a danger in sending incorrect information.

It is our ability to communicate with each other quickly that allows us to react to dangerous situations. Who knows what the future holds? If you look at the advances in the last 20 years, the sky appears to be the limit. As obvious as it sounds, without quick communications efficient operations and news of a friend safety are less likely.

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