Providing emergency services in prison

Establish necessary management strategies to ensure disabled populations are not denied access to emergency services

By Cherrie Greco

Prisons and jails are continually preparing to respond to the unexpected and unplanned event. Natural disasters, population disturbances, human and mechanical error all create circumstances which interfere with the security and good order of a facility.

Once first responders and shift commanders become aware of the issue and evaluate risk, expedient decisions are made and usually result in activating the facility's emergency plan. Verifying staff and offender accountability is one of the first and most important items on E-Plan check lists.

Now, as a result of new rules effective March 2011, the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendment Act 2008 (ADAAA) requires Title II agencies, which include America's prisons and jails, to establish necessary management strategies, ensuring disabled populations are not denied access to the same emergency services as the general population.

Frequent review and update of the facility's emergency plan is critical. Contact names and numbers change frequently and should be revised. Supporting policies should be reviewed to ensure the E-Plan and procedures are aligned. Associated staff training lesson plans require updating, and instructors must be briefed and trained about changes and new content added to existing lesson plans.

Memorandums of Understanding and Letters of Agreement with outside support agencies should be reviewed with all parties offered the opportunity to improve agreements accordingly. Discussions about managing the disabled population become critical during these meetings. Coordinated, multi-agency training exercises are necessary for practicing scenarios which include the emergency needs of the disabled population. After a training exercise, debriefing allows dialogue about the coordination of these efforts.

While the dynamics of any population changes daily, most facilities are experiencing an increase in average daily populations for the vision, mobility, hearing and intellectually-impaired. Therefore, a thorough emergency plan analysis should be conducted with these types of disabilities in mind. There are significant considerations for these populations and are defined in well-written plans: Facility Emergency Alarms and Signals, Evacuation Routes and Procedures For Housing Units and Buildings, Designated Refuge Areas, Portable Toileting, Reserve Food and Water Supplies, Medications, Durable Medical Equipment, Health Care Supplies, Infirmary Management, Triage Management, etc.

Never losing sight of the public safety mission is essential and likely means preparing to defend/shelter in place. The Public Information Officer (PIO) should be well acquainted with the facility's Emergency Plan and skilled at performing a significant role as part of the Emergency Command Center, as information is updated and communicated.

If responded to appropriately, trained staff will ensure the needs of the disabled population are incorporated seamlessly into the successful management of the general population during these events. Finding nothing unusual to report is one goal of the PIO during these stressful moments.

The Americans with Disabilities Act and subsequent Americans with Disabilities Act Amendment Act prohibit discrimination of the disabled offender population. That is, this group must have equal access to programs and services, including safety practices, in the event of a facility emergency.

Staff and offender accountability are critical and made possible by ensuring a number of strategies and practices are included in written emergency plans. When staff are trained, and offenders informed using clear communication and instruction, managing any number of unplanned events will progress without incident.

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