Resilient Detention Environments: Vital to Safety, Security, and Operations
I've been thinking a lot about resiliency in detention environments this week. That’s because recently flood warnings forced evacuation and relocation of Butte County Jail population in Oroville, Calif. Fortunately, the entire population could be accommodated at a facility in Alameda County, the Butte facility did not flood, and the evacuation orders were lifted within days. But what happens next, in a different disaster or one that affects multiple facilities? Or what if there aren't enough empty beds and buses to evacuate multiple facilities from here to there at the same time? Resiliency is key.
Resilience is defined as the ability of the built environment to survive and continue functioning through natural disasters. Achieving resilience in the detention environment comes with its own special set of challenges. Safety and security are the highest priority. To shelter in-place, the population depends on uninterrupted services. And security operations depend on a functional facility and adequate staffing.
The building code requires some disaster planning in a new facility. We must have a strong structure, emergency sources of power. These preparations will protect the structure and operations through seismic events and up to 72 hours without electricity. Fuel can be delivered (if the roads are passable) to extend electrical resilience.
Looking deeper, the building code does not address all aspects of preparedness, so we must be aware of lessons learned from the past:
- We learned in the massive power outage in the Northeast U.S. in 2003, that when power fails, fresh water fails soon after, unless a plan for storage and delivery of potable water exists.
- This year we learned that a facility outside a flood zone can suddenly be in danger of flooding or worse. Consider the flood histories and inundation risks from dam failures.
- Even if the facility is fully prepared to withstand any eventuality, people and services arrive from outside. When natural disaster damages roads, employees and service deliveries need alternate routes.
As our climate changes, there are new risks showing up. Wells run dry, forest fires reach where they never have before, record-breaking snowfalls block roads, heat waves overwhelm air conditioning systems, heavy rains wash out roads, and more.
Consider the evacuation routes during a flood, earthquake, or tornado. Roads may be damaged, or buses may be in use for evacuating residents and not available for use in transporting inmates. Are beds available nearby for transfer? Will public safety employees be available to assist with evacuation, or are they performing other needed functions in the midst of a disaster? Right down to the details, does the facility have enough food and medications stored for the entire population to operate for several days?
Making a detention facility able to fully withstand any disaster and continue functioning may seem on face value like overdoing it. Maybe it’s not reasonable or even possible to anticipate every single scenario. However, when we look at the consequences of evacuating a medium to large facility on short notice and under questionable outdoor conditions, we understand that resiliency is the best course of action, vital to safety and security, and simply can’t be over-done.