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Correctional Hostage Rescue Operations - CHRT - Part 1

STL Joseph Garcia

“We can call on another mutual aid SWAT team.”

Okay, but if your own local police has a situation, I assure you that they have to respond to their own situations first. They will not be dependable at all times.

“The outside SWAT units know hostage rescue.”

True, however, the SWAT team might not be well trained for your facility, having been trained for urban operations. Consider these factors:

In most cases, their SWAT team has not practiced inside your facility.

—Their equipment is not designed for reinforced prison facilities. —SWAT equipment and munitions are not corrections specific. —SWAT teams train for primary lethal operations, and ‘transition to less lethal’ is something that SWAT units do not generally train for in these types of operations. —SWAT units do not train for corrections breaching operations. —SWAT units do not typically train in unstable platform shooting operations. (Liquid, Hard and Reinforced Barricades)

And now, let’s complicate the situation.

Situation factors for SWAT Police to consider:

Hostage situation in a cell with multiple inmates

—One way in —Small area of ops —6×10 cell —Multiple inmates in cell —Barricaded entry with tight quarters

Hostage situations inside the kitchen

—Gas lines —Multiple inmates —Grease and chemical on floors —Heat and humidity that fogs up optics —Inmates wearing kitchen made body armor —Multiple inmates in working areas —Environment surrounded by weapons that can be thrown, made into homemade IEDs —Fire hazard

Hostage situation inside a medical unit

—Entry and exit inside are typically restricted to limited amount of entry —Flammable gases throughout areas in O2 tanks —Pharmacy —Blood born pathogens —Airborne disease —Very tight with many back out areas

Hostage situation inside laundry

—Hazardous chemicals —Many areas that can be used for concealment —Unconventional back out spots —Heavy heat (fatigue factor for operators regarding hydration) —Fire hazard

Housing unit:

—Multiple inmates involved —Fire / smoke —Potential riot —Size of area —Locations of potential hostages —Multi-tier

  • For numerous years US C-SOG has been training Tier 1 and 2 units to address some of the most complicated hostage recovery operations in this area. An example of one such situation: Inmates have hostages sitting on a rail with their legs hanging over the rail, and using their bodies as shields. Their hands and legs are bound with strips of mattress covers and a sheet or cell-made rope tied around their neck and attached to the rail. The doors are barricaded, and once the team tries to make entry, they push the hostages off the edge and step back with hands in the air. What do you do? Going back to one of our first CERT News editions from early 1998 – we discussed these issues and the response and tactics have greatly improved since then.

Inmate work areas

—Size of areas within state prisons (huge) —Environment with potential weapons —Fire hazards —Number of inmates —Blackout areas

Reinforced areas of security – These areas are often overlooked in response planning and training for CHRT

—Master control —Armory —Security post tower

These areas can get extremely risky and challenging if the team is not familiar with these types of environments. US C-SOG is the nation’s foremost corrections training firm and has joined with specialized technology partners to develop the nation’s first “Classified – Reinforced Structure Recovery Operations Program.”

Does this seem like over kill? If you are an experienced operator or a SEA / SEC – (Senior Executive Administrator or Senior Executive Commander) you know that there are real and impending hazards associated with running a corrections facility.

These are just some of the real issues that an unfamiliar responding SWAT team will encounter. Add to these problems time pressure, and other pressures inherent in correctional facility operations. Remember, there is only one chance to get this right.

Is It Real Life, or Is It a Game?

Of course correctional situations are not a joke, but the old risk of rivalries or separate training from force to force can always appear. I’m not saying that Police SWAT are inept or incapable – they aren’t. And know that you can always check the abilities of local SWAT by testing and observing. As someone who has trained with, and has many close SWAT operator friends, I know that many of these issues raised here would be new to them. They would agree that before a typical urban SWAT could capably respond, there would have to be much thought, planning, training and equipping. Your internal CERT/SOU can, and should be trained and ready to deal with these situations.

Some of you are reading this thinking, “when SWAT arrives, I will just put one of my CERT guys on the stack.” Are you sure they are going to be an asset to the team? The tag along could be a hindrance. Have they been fully trained and certified in Correctional Hostage Rescue Operations, or are they going to be guessing? Do they just know the layout of the facility, or are they tactically competent to enter with the unit?

Just Blow it Or Ram It!

Breaching is a critical link in the safe recovery of hostages rescue. Think your going to use explosives inside a facility? Consider the following issues:

—Explosives leave potential toxic fumes. —In rare cases once the blast pressure or shock wave hits the wall, it can kill an operator or the people on the other side. —Expect structural damage to that portion of the facility and account for the time that will be needed for structural inspection, cleaning and decontamination.

Once the explosives are detonated, whether they work correctly or not, the area cannot be used for a long time. What about the ram against smash resistant windows, or those Folgers Adams High Reinforce Gauge steel locks? It will not do much. As corrections master breacher Senior Chief Felix Aponte, will tell you, (while lighting his pipe and asking for a takeout menu to order lunch) you are going to be here a while! You’ll either be picking up bodies because you (a) just compromised your entry, or (b) the entry point that you chose is not going to budge.

The assault is only one part of the recovery and rescue plan. Smooth entry is going to be KEY! A quick word about SC Aponte, his classes have been called “the workhorse of workhorse programs” within the corrections community. He pushes all his students mentally, physically and tactically.

Courage to Move Now!

Operators, this closing is dedicated to your SEC and SEA. SEC and SEA, now is the time to move forward and prepare to combat this real inmate threat. Within the US and throughout the world, teams are taking the bold step of accepting responsibility for approving their current unit to be prepared for Tier 1 and 2 operations. You owe it to the men and women working in your facility and within the system. You, SEC and SEA who have CERT SOU Units, who walk around with those acronyms that identify you as “Specially Trained Bad Dudes,” don’t let your teams not be trained to handle these operations, and worse, face failure as difficult situations arise.

Remember, it is your responsibility as SEC and SEA to handle these situations, but when the police arrive, they take over. Their team, their rules. You become the passenger to their driving. Still, even then, the failure will fall on you. Your teams must be trained to handle these situations as they arise.

YOU have the talent to deal with these types of operations. You have the resources; Tier 1 and 2 operations should be embraced. The new, bolder, and more technically trained inmates you are holding now present new challenges. They pick the time, place and areas. You just have to be prepared. Are you?

Continue to Part 2 >>

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