Four Best Practices to Help Avoid Prison Power Failures

Four Ways to Lower Risk of Power Failure in High-Security Facilities

The recent headlines about power failures at prisons emphasized just how dependent high-security facilities are on emergency power. It’s why we follow these four best practices in facilities where safety depends on power for mission-critical systems.

A recent headline about a power outage at a federal prison showed up in our Twitter feed a week ago, so we decided to do a quick Google search on power outages at prisons. It turns out that this wasn’t the only high-security facility to make headlines after a power glitch:

Yazoo City Correctional Complex, Mississippi.
Caused by an “unexplained power surge” in June, the Yazoo City Correctional Complex in Yazoo City experienced a power outage that lasted for days. Not the thing you want to happen at a Mississippi prison that housed more than 1,700 inmates in the middle of summertime.

Conditions inside the facility were described as “not favorable,” and prison officials were using big fans to keep the buildings cool.

Vandalia Correctional Center, Illinois.
A corrections officer was assaulted by an inmate following a power outage in August. Some of the backup lights failed to illuminate during the outage, and 20 inmates began yelling and banging objects.

While trying to remove one of the inmates from a dorm room, the guard was struck and tackled. The inmate was subsequently restrained.

Orleans Parish Prison, New Orleans.
Once again, a power outage struck a southern prison in the middle of July. The incident, which occurred in 2012, was caused by an out-of-service elevator that was shorting out and sending too much voltage through their electric grid.

The power failed at 8:30 am and was eventually restored by 2:15 pm. Backup lights came on immediately, thanks to a backup generator. However, the air conditioning did not work on a day when the mercury was rising.

Katie Schwartzmann, an attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said a loss of electricity not only affects air quality, but also security. “The power is important not just for air circulation,” she said, “It’s an extremely violent facility.”

Four Best Practices for High-Security Facilities
Fortunately, these situations were resolved without any further damage or injury. They serve as a wake-up call for any facility manager that these situations can happen anytime, anywhere, and that you must be prepared with an emergency power solution.

Whether your facility is high security or not, here are four best practices that should be followed prior to the facility becoming operational (although they can be used for any facility, new or old).

1. Bring all the stakeholders together.
The number one issue we see is a lack of understanding of how a facility works and who is responsible for its various areas.

Even though responsibility may be fragmented between facility managers, IT directors and operations managers, it’s essential that all these stakeholders participate in an internal analysis.

Assemble everyone in the same room to bypass the “silo” mentality, and work together to assemble a master plan. Designate responsibilities and key duties during a power outage.

2. Put together a site survey.
The master plan should include a site survey, in which the needs of every department are clearly noted. Look at your equipment: Is it compatible with your backup generator?  What should be on UPS power? Have surge or transient voltage concerns been addressed?

3. Run a Commissioning Test.
Once you have your emergency power backup system in place, we highly recommend you run a Commissioning Test to ensure it functions as designed. Surprisingly, some facility managers are reluctant to do this, perhaps out of fear of being embarrassed the new plan won’t work.

4. Perform regular maintenance.
It’s one thing to have the plan enacted and the equipment in place. Now you need to make sure it’s well-maintained. 80% or more of UPS system failure is a direct result of battery failure: Are these being tested and inspected properly? Has a full load bank test been performed on the generator or DC plant? Are you familiar with local code requirements for testing and maintenance? Periodic testing is critical.

Simple, common sense maintenance and conducting an annual facility review (to account for new loads to equipment that need to be connected to emergency power) is the best way to avoid catastrophes. Your facility is changing; be sure you stay one step ahead of the game.

In a case involving a high-security facility, the stakes surrounding a power failure are infinitely higher. Best practices are not some pie-in-the-sky goal that you can slowly work toward. Implementing them immediately is critical to the safety and well-being of all people inside the facility.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *