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Correctional Disaster Planning: Are You Ready?
By Bruce Kovach, Federal Bureau of Prisons Mission Analyst
Published: 10/28/2013

Emergency plan A disaster is defined as a sudden event that causes much suffering or loss to many people. A disaster can be caused by a natural catastrophe or created by an accident or act of terrorism. A disaster can be localized or widespread covering a large area. Although disasters will never be eliminated pre and post event preparation is key to reducing the loss of life, reducing injuries, limiting damage to property, and expediting recovery.

Correctional facilities at all levels have, or should have, Emergency/Contingency Plans which address a multitude of events such as, Hostage, Fire, Disturbances (Riots), etc.. However, many of the plans do not address large scale events which affect the facility and the surrounding communities, areas, states, and regions. A recent example is Hurricane Sandy which affected 24 States. ESF #13 (Emergency Support Function #13) dispatched nearly 300 Federal Law Enforcement Officers (FLEO’s) to the New Jersey and New York areas (FEMA Region II.) In this article I will make recommendations for building a disaster response plan for your agency, department, or jurisdiction and provide information on ESF #13 and the role ESF #13 plays in corrections.

The National Response Frame Work (NRF) describes and promotes coordination and collaboration among Federal, State, local, and private sector entities during an emergency or disaster. The NRF contains 15 Emergency Support Functions (ESFs), each led by a specific Federal Department or agency, to coordinate specific aspects of the response. The role of ESF #13 is Public Safety and Security. This is broadly defined as facility and resource security. Security planning and technical resource assistance. Public safety and security support, and support to access, traffic, and crowd control. ESF #13 includes correctional facilities in its support function. ESF #13 is comprised of members from various Department of Justice (DOJ) agencies; ATF, BOP, DEA, FBI, USMS, and other Federal law enforcement agencies. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) leads ESF #13 as the coordinating agency. In addition to the staff at the ESF #13 National Coordination Center there are 10 Regional Law Enforcement Coordinators (RLECs) and 10 Field Coordinators (FCs) who are assigned to each of the 10 FEMA Regions.

ESF #13 activations are directed by FEMA in response to events, such as; hurricanes, flooding, tornados, wildfire, earthquakes, or acts of terrorism. The mission of ESF #13 is to provide Federal Public Safety and Security assistance to Federal, State, local, tribal, and territorial organizations overwhelmed by an actual or anticipated disaster. When a disaster is declared or anticipated the ESF #13 National Coordinator Center Command Post is activated. At the request of the State and once State resources are exhausted ESF #13 can provide assistance from a larger resource pool such as; uniformed officers, tactical teams, crisis negotiators, investigators, arson/fire investigators, mobile command posts, intelligence analysts, aviation assistance, waterborne assets, communications specialists, explosives expertise, medics, and forensic scientists.

Through the process of establishing response guidelines and operational preplans ESF #13 found there has been little in the way of disaster management planning as it relates to corrections. ESF #13 realized early on that correctional facilities can require specialized response components. Based on their finding ESF #13 has two Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOP) staff assigned to the ESF #13 National Coordination Center to develop a functional correctional response when called upon in times of disaster. ESF #13 is a proponent of preplanning. Having a solid, functional, preplan enables a quick and efficient response to mission assignments (MAs). ESF #13 is working with the FBOP, and correctional authorities and educators to encourage correctional systems, at all levels, to be better prepared for disasters which not only affect their facility but also the community and possibly other correctional facilities in the vicinity.

A review of existing Emergency/Contingency Plans for many correctional institutions and systems found the plans do not realistically look beyond the facility boundaries. Most plans do a good job of outlining responses to typical correctional emergencies such as riots/disturbances, food/work strikes, hostage incidents, escapes, and fires to name a few. Not many plans discuss situations such as mass evacuation, when the surrounding community or an entire region is being evacuated, or where and how to transport, house and secure the evacuated inmate population. Some plans fail to address the procedures for a shelter in place plan or how to provide staffing when the community in which the majority of employees live with their families is devastated. These are a few topics I’ll address in the upcoming paragraphs. The use of mutual aid agreements or memorandums of understandings (MOUs) are an important part of pre-incident planning. Having agreements with other agencies, jurisdictions, and vendors, locally and outside the region, not only expedite the response process but can potentially reduce the overall cost. Budget is important to every correctional system even when disasters strike budget remains a consideration. Having agreements in place with private sector contractors and other correctional systems before an event can aid in providing a safe and secure correctional environment in a cost effective manner. There are unscrupulous people who will inflate their prices at times like this. Having pre-signed written commitments may help contain cost and could also put you at the head of the line for services, resources or materials. MOUs can also reduce many of legal obstacles encountered when housing inmates outside of your jurisdiction or accepting staff assistance from other agencies.

When developing a disaster plan it is not feasible to cover every possible type of disaster. For instance the Ohio Department of Corrections has little chance of having to take action due to volcanic activity. However, this possibility does exist in other geographical areas. Disaster plans should evolve from realistic possibilities. Correctional systems should provide staff at all levels National Incident Management System / Incident Command System (NIMS/ICS) training and use it in some degree at all emergency incidents from fires and floods to food/work strikes, and riots. Once developed the emergency plans should be taught to staff of all ranks and practiced through tabletop exercises, drills, and mock emergencies. The exercises and drills are most beneficial when all elements of the plan are tested this is to include persons and agencies who hold MOUs with the agency. Additionally, certain aspects of the emergency plans should be made known to the inmate population. Such as when activating the plan due to weather related incidents. As we in corrections know, managing a cooperative inmate population is far better than dealing with an uncooperative mass. Informing the inmate population of the institutions expectations, for example during weather events or even fire alarm activations, may make the shelter in place plan or the evacuation plan quicker and easier to implement. Informing the inmate population of the facilities expectations ahead of time reduces the amount of time staff needs to convey the information at the time of the event. This can be accomplished by placing the information in the inmate handbook and/or covering the material in inmate orientation lectures. To reiterate, the better prepared a correctional system is pre-event the quicker the recovery post-event. Preparedness translates into a reduction of man hours and materials post-incident which will translate into better management of the taxpayer dollars. Disaster planning is a low cost or no cost endeavor which can pay off tenfold after an incident occurs. For sound effective disaster planning it must take place at all levels of the correctional system, halfway houses, local jails, county/regional prisons, state/federal facilities, regional/district offices, and central offices or headquarters.

In Part 2, I will discuss several items which could be beneficial to the correctional system building a disaster response plan.

Bruce Kovach is a Federal Bureau of Prisons Mission Analyst assigned to the ESF #13 National Coordination Center. Kovach has 26 years correctional experience. For additional information Kovach can be contacted via e-mail at Bruce.Kovach@atf.gov .


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