Prison drill simulates hostage situation
By Amy Lavalley Post-Tribune correspondent June 5, 2012 11:42AM
Departement of Corrections officers leave the administration building after hostages were removed during an emergency drill at the Westville Correctional Facility in Westville, Ind. Tuesday June 5, 2012. Emergency officials rehearsed responses to a hostage situation. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 7, 2012 8:41AM
WESTVILLE — In a 21/2-hour scenario Tuesday morning, two inmates took two staff members hostage at Westville Correctional Facility.
The good news for all involved was that the scenario was a crisis drill, an annual practice that keeps law enforcement and emergency management officials on their toes just in case something does happen at the medium- and minimum-security facility just off Indiana 2.
The prison is not immune to disasters; inmates took over a housing unit more than 10 years ago, trapping two staff members inside, and a fire started in the basement of another housing unit about 20 years ago, said public information officer John Schrader.
“We’re always prepared as if we’re due (for another disaster),” he said. “That’s the reason for this drill.”
The faux hostage crisis took place on the fourth floor of the administration building; while the lower floors of the building house offices, the third and fourth floors house inmates.
Staff members played both the inmates and the hostages, though to make the scenario and the response to it more realistic — and therefore more valuable in terms of training and assessment — many of the staff and responders did not know the event was a drill, Schrader said.
“This was part of what we wanted to do — how do staff respond in a real-life situation?” he said.
The prison went on lockdown at 8:10 a.m. as the drill began to unfold. By 9 a.m., members of the prison’s emergency squad in full riot gear stood outside the administration building. Puffs of smoke — actually just steam — wafted from the top of the building, bringing in the Westville Community Volunteer Fire Department.
The Indiana Department of Homeland Security mobile command center, which is based in Valparaiso with the Porter County Emergency Management Agency, also was on hand outside the prison’s main perimeter, near a building for minimum-security inmates.
Many of them, dressed in prison-issued white T-shirts and khaki pants, peered out the windows to see what was going on.
The drill is meant to measure both how prison staff respond in a crisis, and gauge how well outside agencies handle things as well, Schrader said. Last year, the prison’s drill involved a fire within the prison’s perimeter, to make sure the Fire Department’s trucks could fit through the gate.
At around 10:20 a.m., prison staff received word via their radios that the hostages would be coming out of the building with first responders. Shortly after, LaPorte County Emergency Medical Services personnel brought one hostage out on a gurney — complete with fake head and arm wounds — while another, with a mocked-up head wound, walked out on his own.
With a check of the emergency squad and a count of the prisoners, the drill was over but there was more work to be done.
“The fun part for us comes with the debriefing afterward,” Schrader said, adding that includes a critique of how prison staff and outside agencies responded during the drill.