We Have Lost Power – Yes, It Can Happen – Part Two (A)

I am willing to bet that some of the people who read Part One of this series made some of the following statements; “That will never happen here. Impossible! I don’t believe it”!

I understand that it is almost impossible to think of the United States of America without electrical power for months; it’s almost inconceivable. For the people who are responsible for emergency planning, the task is demanding and daunting.

Here is some bad news from a June 9, 2014 article: “Terrorists Blackout Yemen” “For the first time in history, a terrorist attack on the electric power grid has blacked-out an entire nation. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is the group claiming responsibility for the attack. “ [1]

So it has happened! An entire country – YEMEN – has lost all of its external electrical power! Those groups/people, foreign and domestic, who would do us harm are perfecting their tactics, skills and knowledge. We can sit and wait for something to happen, or we can develop a plan so that we will have something to go by when/if this catastrophe occurs.

Once again the Major Areas that we are going to develop for the plan are:

  1. Personnel Issues / Concerns
  2. Direct Operations
  3. Indirect Operations
  4. Supply Chain

As we develop the plan, you will see that each of the Major Areas will break down into several subcategories. As the old saying goes, “The devil is in the details” and for a plan like this, it is important that we “drill down” to get to the details.1. Personnel Issues and Concerns

Personnel Issues and Concerns will drive the other elements of this matrix. Personnel Issues and Concerns are very complex because there are so many stakeholders, and because without personnel the organization ceases to operate.

There are a number of unknowns when human beings face a catastrophic event such as the loss of all external electrical power for an extended period of time. Some people will panic and do foolish things, perhaps even criminal things.

An event such as the loss of all external power will evolve and I am predicting that it will worsen as the time without power lengthens, because everything, even water, will become a scarce commodity. New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina is an example of what and how people will react to the unknown. We will discuss Katrina in greater depth further on in this series of articles.Staffing

It is known that to effectively operate a correctional facility, a specific number of correctional staff is required. Therefore, each facility should complete the following exercise:

  • Conduct a comprehensive staff analysis to determine the minimum number of staff required to operate “each” shift.
  • This staffing analysis “must” include all of the disciplines that it takes to operate a correctional facility (Security, Programming, Medical, Psychological, Food Service, Maintenance Support, Administration, Supervisors, and Transportation).
  • Pre-determine posts to be filled by “departmental” priority.
  • Example:

    Security Posts – Perimeter Patrol 24/7

    A Block-2 16/7

    A Block-1 8/7

    Chief Steward and two cooks 16/7

    Doctor 8/4

    Nurse 2 16/7

    Nurse 1 8/7

    C.N.A. 1 24/7

    Maint. 1 16/7

Now, here is a “REALITY CHECK”! In your planning process, have you taken into account the reality of ‘staff’ abandoning their posts and/or the number of staff who will not report for duty if there is an emergency of this magnitude.

Factors for people abandoning their posts and/or not reporting for work must be taken into consideration.

  • A number of today’s correctional professionals are single parents.
  • Some are taking care of elderly parents.
  • Some are responsible for the safe keeping of animals.
  • Both parents may work at the facility.
  • Both parents may work in public safety occupations.
  • It is human nature to take care of oneself and family.

As an example of how people will react during a crisis, Hurricane Katrina lends us some useful information. The New Orleans Police reported that 249 officers deserted their posts during the crisis. This was about 15% percent of its force. [2]

Here is an exercise: Now that you have determined the minimum staffing by department and hours, recalculate your findings with:

  • 10% fewer staff from every department
  • 15% fewer staff from every department
  • 20% fewer staff from every department
  • 50% fewer staff from every department

After completing this exercise take some time to determine the impact on the operations of the facility. I believe that you will find it shocking.

Now that reality has set-in, you should go back and rethink the facility’s staffing document that you have prepared previously. The goal of these two exercises is for the facility’s planners to have a plan to staff with the “real” number of staff who show-up for work.

An Army Colonel who was preparing a plan for the evacuation of a major European city in the event of a nuclear attack told me that, after careful analysis, he and his team determined that less than 50% of the troops would report for duty. I have always kept this story in the back of my mind when developing or reviewing emergency/contingency plans.

One could project that if the duration and destruction of Hurricane Katrina continued on for a longer period of time, the officer desertion rate would have, most probably, increased. Here is what happens when the facility’s emergency/ contingency plans are not well developed and practiced.

Human Rights Watch reported, “Inmates in Templeman III, one of several buildings in the New Orleans Parish Prison compound, reported as of Monday, August 29, there were no correctional officers in the building, which held more than 600 inmates. These inmates, including some who were locked in the ground-floor, were not evacuated until Thursday, September 1, four days after flood waters in the jail had reached chest-level”. [3]

Not to minimize the severity of Hurricane Katrina, but the duration of the storm over New Orleans could be estimated. The public safety people knew when the storm would move on. The total loss of external electrical power for an extended period of time is without question, in my mind, a much more demanding emergency.

Most of us saw how the general public reacted during Katrina. We can only imagine how the general public will react initially and throughout the duration of an incident where all external electrical power is lost. When there is a lack of food, possibly fresh drinking water, heat, air conditioning, alarms, lights, etc., the best and worst in people will be manifested.Staff and Their Families

Very often, emergency contingency plans do not take into consideration the staff’s families. It is my belief that if the facility is going to ask the staff to come to work and do their jobs, then the facility has an obligation, in my opinion, to assist the employees’ families.

Some of the ways a facility can assist their staff should an event of this magnitude occur:

  • Supply fresh drinking water
  • Permit family members access to the facility’s medical personnel
  • Allow rationing of food supplies
  • Allow washing of clothing
  • Allow family visiting time for employees (meals together)
  • Provide transportation, if needed, for employees’ family members, etc.

The Inmates

Inmates are going to be like everyone else in the United States when the power goes out. They are going to be wondering about their families, and themselves.

As correctional professionals, it is our duty to:

  • Maintain the security of the facility
  • Insure the “care and custody” of the inmates
  • As much as humanly possible, address the needs of the inmates
  • As much as possible, permit the inmates to have communications with their family members
  • Insure, as much as possible, a safe living environment for the inmates

Maintaining the Security of the Facility will be extremely demanding and we will go into great detail in the Direct Operation section of this series. For this section we will examine Maintaining the Security of the Facility from a staffing and inmate perspective.

Critical during any emergency situation is keeping everyone “INFORMED” with the most accurate information possible. This includes the staff and the inmates. It is inevitable that the “rumor mill” will crank –up. It is the responsibility of the Administration and Management to stifle rumors by spreading factual information.

Re-thinking daily operations to further insure the Security of the Facility may be necessary. The goal is to always have enough staff to manage a situation should it erupt. To be able to accomplish this will require “fine tuning” every aspect of the Direct Daily Operations.

  • Rather than serving meals in the dayrooms of the pods, meals may have to be served to the inmates in their cells.
  • Many of the “Stationary” posts may have to become more flexible so that staff can “float” to where they are for specific purposes.
  • Obliviously there will “not” be sufficient staff to operate normally, but the Administration/Management must make every effort possible to permit the inmates time to exercise, attend religious services, and time to recreate, etc. “They have to blow off steam”!
  • Let the inmates know in advance of upcoming changes to the daily schedule.
  • Example:

    -The staff will start serving the noon meal at 11:00 am rather than noon.

    -To conserve power we will shut off every other lighting fixture in the hallways and living areas.

    -We did not receive any mail delivery today, etc.
  • Exercise: What are some changes that you think of that might be unique to your facility? Write them down
  • Because of the loss of all External Electrical Power some of the operations may have to be accomplished manually. (I would recommend that at least once a week the staff operate the facility manually, so that if the need occurs they will be prepared.)

It is crucial for the staff to adjust to the “real world” situations that the loss of all External Electric Power would create. Some terms to remember are:

  • Flexible – To be able to change to meet the challenge
  • Pre-plan EVERYTHING – Think before acting – a single mistake could create an “internal” crisis
  • Quick response – Catch it in the bud – What used to be small things could now become big things
  • Show of force – Always have sufficient staff to deal with any situation that may arise.
  • Improvise when necessary – Make it work to get through the crisis.
  • Expect the unexpected – No facility can plan for every contingency, but if the staff is well trained and prepared to REACT, that is all that be can expected.

Care and Custody

First things first. The facility should have a policy and procedure that “suspends” all operational policies and procedures in the event of any emergency. Someday the emergency will end and the lawyers for the inmates will be attempting to sue on behalf of the inmates because the facility “violated” its own policies and procedures. I remember a judge once saying that, in his opinion, “ There is no defense for violating your own policies and procedures.” While it may sound crazy, I believe that it could happen. I have seen weirder things in 40 years.

While the facility has a policy and procedure for suspending the normal operational P&Ps, this does not relieve it from providing Care and Custody of its inmates.


When we are discussing Care of the inmates, it should be understood by the readers that this Care is far reaching. For example:

  • Medical care
  • Dental care
  • Physiological care
  • Shelter
  • Food
  • Water
  • Clean clothes
  • Clean living conditions
  • Protection from other inmates
  • Evacuation to another facility if possible
  • Inoculations for diseases (Tetanus, measles, chickenpox, etc.). This is something I learned from working with Youthful Offenders. Very often the YOs did not know if they ever had inoculations for childhood diseases.
  • Daily medications for inmates with chronic and acute conditions
  • Wound care (if applicable)
  • Visitation (if possible)
  • Discharge (if applicable)

I cannot over emphasize the importance of addressing (caring for) the inmates’ psychological health. Their human emotions such as fear and worry about themselves and their families will only intensify as the crisis drags on.


Continuing custody of the inmates at this time, I believe, will prove challenging. Initially, everyone will be assessing what is / has happened. As the duration of the event continues, “new” unofficial rules will be established by the inmates in an effort to maintain life, as they knew it.

I spoke with a great many correctional professional post “911” and asked them how the inmates responded. The census was that many of the inmates reacted like most every other American – they were shocked and angered. There were some inmates who retreated to their cells or living areas. And of course there were the troublemakers, gang members who were trying to exploit the situation for their own gains.

The facility will be hard at work re-thinking, developing, and implementing new operational policies and procedures to get it through the crisis. The facility will work to insure the following:

  • Security
  • Operational effectiveness
  • Operational efficiency
  • Assessing the number of days of on-hand “necessary” supplies
  • Staffing requirements / shortages
  • Assessing any damages, if any, to the facility, equipment, etc.

The inmates will also be assessing how this crisis affects them in the short and long run.As the crisis continues, the facility will have to make adjustments to maintain security and control. Just remember, in this series of articles we are only discussing a correctional facility. The rest of America will also be trying to survive.