Operation Secure Fortress, a tabletop exercise conducted on Thursday, May 9, 2013 at the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission office in Chesapeake, evaluated the preparedness capabilities of Southside local and regional jails for responding to significant weather events, including a Category 2 Hurricane.
Sworn and civilian personnel from the Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Western Tidewater Regional and Hampton Roads Regional Jails gathered to examine what to do with inmates when facing such weather conditions. Shelter-in-place or prepare to evacuate them?
The jailors and staff members discussed appropriate responses, reviewed individual facility plans (strengths and weaknesses) and engaged in group discussions with other jails to gain insight into multiple options and possible solutions.
Common core issues for many of the jails included the performance of backup generators in the event of a major and prolonged power outage, adequate communication systems if internet and cell towers go down, food and water supplies, sewage and trash concerns, how to handle dialysis patients who are transported off site for treatment, in-house medical care and inmate medical records should computer systems fail and what to do with a deceased inmate's body if an inmate passes during the emergency.
"I was able to sit in on part of the exercise and was impressed with the topics covered and the level of dedication and importance our region's correctional personnel placed on the exercise." said Dwight Farmer, HRPDC Executive Director.
"The breadth and detail of the issues they face in such circumstances is staggering. We clearly need to heed the lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina and do more of these exercises so that this portion of the region's population is ready."
The HRPDC sponsored the exercise in accordance with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP) guidelines. CRA, Inc. of Alexandria, VA provided the exercise support team.
In addition to jail participants, representatives from Dominion Virginia Power, Virginia Department of Transportation, Virginia Department of Emergency Management, Virginia Department of Corrections, Virginia Department of Health and the Office of Medical Examiners were on hand to serve as observers and facilitators to the groups to help develop responses to situations and offer additional information to resolve key issues.
A similar tabletop event will be held on the Peninsula with a follow-on regional exercise occurring in July that will include jails from both the Southside and Peninsula.