Prisons Special Teams: One Team Working Together
A training exercise pulls Prisons special responder units from across the state.

The training scenario — multiple escapees and hostages — required Prisons special teams from across the state to collaborate, making the sum greater than its individual, formidable parts.

Author: Brad Deen

BISCOE — “Hostages” were saved and “escapees” captured. But that wasn’t the point. 

Team enters building in gas masks
Prisons Emergency Response Team

(PERT) enters a building in gas masks.

 Prisons’ special teams trained together during an all-day simulation Nov. 4 at the former East Montgomery High School. The scenario — multiple escapees and hostages across the grounds — required special teams from across the state to collaborate, making the sum greater than its individual, formidable parts.

“Our teams train all the time, and they’re good at what they do,” said Kenneth Smith, Prisons chief of emergency preparedness. “But we don’t have many opportunities for all our teams to practice working together.” 

Most units are assigned to one of the four Prisons regions—East, West, Central or South Central. Regional squads train together as schedules permit, but the logistics are daunting when planning a statewide, all-hands exercise involving nearly 100 personnel from Prisons staffs that are already stretched thin. 

“This is something we should at least consider doing more regularly,” said Loris Sutton, acting deputy commissioner of Prisons, as she watched teams respond to the unfolding scenario. “As they become familiar with one another and comfortable working with one another, they realize how everyone doing their job helps everyone else.” 

For example, as K-9 units tracked plainclothes “escapees,” a Prisons Emergency Response Team (PERT) squad ran alongside, providing security. Overhead, a buzzing drone scanned for hiding spots and heat signatures, which pilots radioed to the field. 

SORT searches room by room.
Prisons Special Operations and

Response Team (SORT)

searches room by room.​​​​

The drone team demonstrated its resourcefulness in another “evolution” of the scenario, searching door-to-door for armed hostage-takers ahead of a Special Operations and Response Team (SORT).

“Technology, working smartly, everyone working in coordination — all that could really make the difference in a successful end to an emergency situation,” observed Adult Correction Secretary Todd Ishee, as he monitored the door-to-door exercise. “You want to protect the hostages, but you also want to protect your people. At the end of the day, you want everyone to go home safely.” 

That includes offenders, who are under the protection of the State as they serve their sentences. But not everyone acts in their best self-interest.  

The final “evolution” involved a home invasion and civilian hostages. The Special Operations Tactical and Intelligence Team (SOTIT) practiced reporting each new development in real time and maintaining awareness of each simulation actor’s location.  

SOTIT snipers — who can put a hole through a dime or sever a lollipop from its stick at 200 yards — awaited a command they hope never to have to carry out. Yet the general public’s safety is always the top priority. 

The end-of-day debriefing was mostly positive. Collaboration was evident, lives were saved, and opportunities for improvement were discussed.  

Adrenaline was as much a foe as armed escapees. Even in a controlled setting, adrenaline can overwhelm the mind.

Training defends it.

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More photos from the event:

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