|Two Case Studies on Jail Evacuations During a Natural Disaster: Iowa’s 2008 Flooding: Part 2|
|By Major James A. Murphy|
Part 2. Linn County Jail: Long-Term Evacuation
This article is based on a training resource prepared for the National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA), Jail Evacuation and Implementation Program Initiative, part of NSA’s Homeland Security Initiative. The author helped to develop and deliver this training and wishes to recognize the contributions of an extensive team. The material is presented here with the permission of NSA and of the Linn County and Polk County Sheriff’s Offices.
The spring of 2008 was notable in Iowa for extreme flooding in several river drainages. Images from the flooding were featured on national newscasts. Conditions became so severe that the jails in Polk County (Des Moines) and Linn County (Cedar Rapids) were evacuated. The Polk County jail was evacuated on a Friday, and inmates returned 2 days later. In Linn County, the jail was not reopened for nearly a year. Both situations fortunately were resolved without loss of life or escapes, attesting to the effective response of staff and preparations that were in place long before the crisis.
Despite their overall success responding to the emergency situations, each jail’s leadership learned through experience that additional preparations could have improved its response. The different experiences of the two jails make it clear that jails can benefit from making plans for both “short term” and “long term” evacuations. This report compares their experiences and highlights ideas that may be of value to other agencies.
Agency—Linn County Sheriff’s Office
Inmates moved—386 (346 males, 40 females; including 200 federal inmates from the U.S. Marshals Service and ICE)
The Linn County Jail is a five-story structure located on Mays Island in the Cedar River in downtown Cedar Rapids, Iowa. As the Cedar River began to swell in early June, 2008, Sheriff Donald Zeller and his staff were in close communications to monitor the situation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, area public safety agencies, and other Linn County representatives.
Public safety agencies had difficulty getting accurate river level projections because the upstream tracking stations became inoperable as they were submerged in water. Projections for the river’s height and cresting were between 21 and 24 feet; the river finally crested at 31 feet. There were two flash-flood rain events in the hours preceding the evacuation. In a defensive act to limit the damage by floodwaters, a sandbagging operation was undertaken using Linn County jail inmates and Sheriff’s Office staff.
The Linn County Sheriff’s Office responded to rising water levels with a complete evacuation.
Sheriff Zeller and his staff had conducted evacuation planning prior to the incident. Because of the proximity of the Duane Arnold Nuclear Power Station in Palo, Iowa, the Linn County Sheriff’s Office had participated in a site assessment required by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The assessment established that the Iowa Department of Corrections facilities at Anamosa and Oakdale would house male inmates and the DOC’s Mitchellville facility would house the jail’s female population. It was also established during this assessment that 10-person gang chains would be used to restrain inmates during an evacuation.
Mutual-aid agreements and notification protocols were in place with several correctional and public safety agencies and organizations.
Sheriff Zeller and his staff notified the agency’s mutual aid providers 4 days prior to invoking the emergency evacuation order. When the county invoked these mutual-aid agreements, it sought a commitment of at least 5 days.
Given the severity of the damage to the jail, new agreements were needed to provide for longer-term housing beyond the initial evacuation. Female inmates were moved from Mitchellville to the Oakdale facility. Men stayed mainly at Iowa’s correctional institution in Anamosa. The intake center at the Sixth Judicial District complex was used for arrestee processing, the housing of compliant inmates who were being arraigned, and the housing of detainees with jail stays under 30 days. Non-compliant inmates were housed and arraigned at the Jones County jail in Anamosa. Inmates who were not held at the Sixth Judicial District complex went to Jones County.
The Linn County Correctional Center reopened in May 2009, though all repairs and mitigation were not fully complete. Linn County worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on risk mitigation and improvements in a “Phase II” project to reduce the severity of damages if another flood occurs of the same magnitude as 2008. An addition to the jail provides elevated second- and third-floor space for critical mechanical and electrical systems for the jail and courthouse, including the jail’s door control, computers, camera system, electrical systems, diesel generator, and HVAC. The jail’s laundry room has been moved to an upper level, and administrative segregation cells have been constructed in the main-floor space formerly occupied by laundry operations. The jail’s two main hydraulic elevators have been replaced by traction control elevators, which are operated by counter-weights. The new elevators will be protected from future flooding because the mechanics of a traction elevator are not located in the lowest level of the building as they are with hydraulic elevators. As a non-flood related part of the project, the jail’s kitchen has also been expanded to improve efficiency and capacity to feed a larger jail population than the original kitchen was designed for in 1984. Project costs were $7.6 million, $3.5 million of which was provided by FEMA and $4.1 million through Linn County bonding.
The Linn County Jail remained in a state of evacuation for nearly a year. For the emergency evacuation, jail personnel identified several aspects that could have been anticipated that would have improved the response to the incident.
The men and women of the participating agencies in Iowa and beyond should be applauded for their professionalism and dedication before and during these catastrophic events. The support and understanding of their families is also to be recognized. The staff members’ dedicated service ensured that there was no loss of life or escape attempts.
Natural disasters can take many forms, and no jail is entirely free from risk. Surviving such an event allows an agency to identify its own strengths and weaknesses. By participating in this study, the Linn County and Polk County Sheriff’s Offices not only showed their dedication to improving their respective operational and emergency evacuation plans, but also have helped to promote effective emergency preparation in other agencies.
All of the many agencies involved in these two incidents worked together for the common good. The Linn County Sheriff’s Office suffered a very large setback to its operations and has risen to the challenge, performing admirably during the recovery. Staff of the Polk County Sheriff’s Office also demonstrated outstanding professionalism under conditions that were less dire but still quite threatening. Although the widespread flooding in June 2008 was devastating and destructive to many citizens and emergency responders in and around the State of Iowa, the public safety response is to be congratulated. These events have reinforced agencies’ understanding of the continuous need for “all-hazards” training and exercises to be undertaken with federal, state, county, tribal, and local agencies, as well as the benefits of including the private sector in disaster planning.
Click here for part I
Reprinted - National Institute of Corrections - National Jail Exchange
Document available at: http://community.nicic.gov/blogs/national_jail_exchange/archive/2012/08/13/two-case-studies-on-jail-evacuations-during-a-natural-disaster-iowa-s-2008-flooding.aspx
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