Correctional professionals will face many challenging incidents and emergencies in their career - maintaining their authority, protecting their personal well-being and controlling uncooperative subjects, just to list a few. Further, officers not only have to deal with the situation itself, but they also need to be prepared to explain and justify their actions afterwards to co-workers, supervisors, the plaintiff’s attorney, the courts and - let’s not forget - the media.
The best way to be able to explain why your actions in an incident were proper and appropriate is, of course, to have acted properly and appropriately in the first place. And the best way to help insure that you will act properly and appropriately when needed is to be prepared physically, mentally and emotionally for the incident before in happens.
Each of these three forms of preparation is as important as the other two. If you lack strength in one of them, it will hinder your ability to complete the other two effectively. Let’s look at them one by one.
Step One: Physical preparation
Physical preparation is probably the most obvious form of preparation. It involves being fit for duty and able to perform any physical task you may have to. This may include running to an incident, subject control techniques, self-protection skills, CPR, lifting a hanging inmate or carrying/dragging someone to safety.
Physical exercise is a must in this occupation and should include strength training, cardio conditioning and flexibility work. When choosing a workout regiment, ask yourself:
• Am I working out to have better performance on the job or so I look good in the mirror?
• How will these exercises improve my job performance?
Step Two: Mental preparation
Mental preparation starts with understanding what kind of incidents can happen when you are on duty and what you need to do to resolve those situations. The major obstacle to this is denial. Denial is the enemy of preparation. It can come in two forms:
1. The ever prevailing, “It will never happen to me, so why worry?”
2. Knowing what to do, but not how to do it under pressure: This is the officer that has a general idea of how to react and, if given enough time, would probably be able think it through, but during the high intensity of a real emergency, they’ll likely fall short on the performance meter.
Confidence without ability can be a disastrous combination.
After you understand what can happen while you are working, the second part of mental preparation is knowing what your legal responsibilities are, what your institution’s policy and procedures require you to do and what your training has taught you to do. You must also be able to recall all of this information quickly and under stress if needed.
There are systems designed to help guide officers’ actions such as the First Responder’s Philosophy, Disturbance Resolution Model, Respond Theory and others. Know and practice whatever system(s) you were taught. It will not only assist you in acting properly but also help you justify your actions afterward. You can learn more about these theories and models in this article.
Mental preparation requires you to be in a mindset where you can act quickly and appropriately if needed. Knowing what you should do and having the ability to do it will be of little value if you do not remain alert and vigilant or are unwilling to get involved.
Step Three: Emotional preparation
When dealing with high intensity incidents you need to be prepared to handle not only the physiological impact of the situation, but also the psychological aspects that accompany it.
At times we may have to deal with subjects who are dead or near death, exposure to (and/or contact with) large amounts of blood or other bodily fluids, verbal abuse, highly resistive subjects or a physical assault. In these instances it is likely for your body to experience such things as an increased heart rate, adrenaline rush, tunnel vision and auditory exclusion. You can quickly become physically ill or weak.
To combat this you need to be able to “play on when hurt” and be ready to handle both the physical and emotional stress you may encounter. The better prepared you are physically, mentally and emotionally the easier it will be to handle the psychological and physiological impacts of the incident.
By being prepared to handle correctional emergencies, high risk and high stress incidents, you will not only keep yourself safer both physically and legally, but you will also reduce your anxiety and have a more satisfying career.
Stay strong everyone