Revisiting Jail Evacuation Procedures

On the topic of jail evacuations, The National Institute of Corrections (NIC) released a guide entitled Critical Analysis of Emergency Preparedness: Self-Audit Material in which they made this statement, “In hours, a major emergency can cost tens of millions of dollars and result in many years of litigation. The negative publicity surrounding a major institutional crisis can also be over­whelming and almost interminable.”

No one hopes for a reason to evacuate a jail, but if it becomes necessary, procedures must be followed if everyone hopes to evacuate without injury, unnecessary costs or bad publicity. Proper planning, preparedness and practice for an evacuation scenario can be the best way to protect against serious injury or the loss of life.  Jail personnel should be trained and have a rehearsed course of action for different types of emergencies, so they know how to respond when one occurs.  Bear in mind, aftermath of an emergency could be just as damaging as the emergency itself, which makes it all the more imperative that you have a well-coordinated plan of action for such incidents, before they occur.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) issued its own guidelines for emergency procedures. The following is from the DOJ’s Emergency Preparedness Self-Audit Checklist for Jails. These are just a few of the questions you would need to answer, depending on the type of emergency. Consider how you and your facility stack up.

  • Does the jail have an identified system of emergency preparation and/or emergency response?
  • Does the jail have a statement of its objectives and goals during major emergencies? Does policy specify who is in initial command of the jail when an emergency is declared?
  • Is there an evacuation plan for all areas of the facility?
  • Is there a comprehensive inventory of emergency equipment?
  • At the onset of a major emergency, could the jail quickly account for all staff, visitors, contractors, and volunteers within the facility and determine the identities of those not accounted for?

The full audit list includes many more questions, and with a thorough plan in place, it could mean the difference between a smoothly run emergency evacuation or a dangerous and expensive failure.  It could also mean the difference between life and death.

There are a numerous factors that might prevent a facility from implementing a thorough emergency evacuation plan. As the NIC stated “Emergency preparedness is often not afforded the priority that it needs and deserves. In some cases, this may be due to complacency. In other cases, it happens because establishing a comprehensive system of emergency preparation and emergency response is not easy. It requires budget, time, equipment, inter-agency coordination, and long-term management attention.” Ultimately, none of these are valid excuses when a disaster or security failure results in deadly or expensive consequences.  A stitch in time saves nine, as the old adage goes.

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