N.C. Department of Correction--Correction News--November 1998

Officers respond to mock disaster

The call was received at Watauga Correctional Center at 2:28 p.m. on Sept. 23: There had been a traffic collision involving an inmate transport van and a private vehicle on US 421. The correctional officer transporting the inmates had been killed in the collision immediately after informing rescue first responders that two of the five inmates he was transporting had escaped into the woods.

Sheriff James Lyons and Watauga Superintendent Keith
Johnson discuss a possible escape route used by the
inmates as emergency workers attend to the injured.

This scenario was part of a multi-agency disaster drill involving Watauga Correctional Center staff, Western Area P.E.R.T., Watauga County Emergency Medical Services, local fire departments, Boone Police Department, Watauga County Sheriff’s Department and the N.C. State Highway Patrol.

Watauga Correctional Center Acting Superintendent Keith Johnson was contacted by Watauga County Emergency Management staff and asked if he was interested in participating in the disaster drill.

"Each year they test response of fire, rescue or law enforcement personnel or a combination of each," Johnson said. "I was glad they asked for our involvement, so we could evaluate our procedures and response time."

After being notified of the "accident" involving one of Watauga’s inmate transport vans, Johnson called in off-duty staff to provide security to the injured inmates and begin initial capture procedures until the P.E.R.T. arrived. Once the Western Area Charlie Company, Third Battalion of P.E.R.T. and the bloodhounds arrived, perimeters were established and searching began. The two "inmates" who had escaped were actually local EMS members. After being captured, one stated, "That dog was on me before I knew it. I was waiting for it to bark, and it never barked."

"This situation could occur any day," Johnson said. "I was pleased not only with the response of my staff, the P.E.R.T. and the dog handlers, but with the way all the agencies involved worked so closely together to control the situation."

NC DOC Homepage
E-mail NC DOC