Monday, October 18, 1999

California Department of Corrections Takes Positive Actions After Power Outage

Responding to a need for improved response to a loss of electrical power at Wasco State Prison last April, the California Department of Corrections (CDC) has instituted a major program of enhancements to ensure that all state prisons are responsive to emergencies caused by sudden power outages.

"Because we are committed to the safety and security of the public, staff and inmates, we learned a great deal from this situation of last April and even more from some recent findings by the Bureau of State Audits," said CDC Director C.A. "Cal" Terhune. "We began to examine our response to the outage immediately and began to identify some changes we needed to make. However, the audit provided us with more useful information we are in the process of incorporating into our improvements."

On April 12, 1999, a high voltage transformer failed at Wasco State Prison, causing a power outage that lasted, at least in part, for several hours. Full power was restored to the institution by the following day. Failure of the transformer led to an electrical problem that prevented the institution’s backup generator system from functioning properly. However, power to the institution’s electrified fence was was not affected by the outage, maintaining a safe perimeter between the institution and the surrounding community. No inmate injuries were reported and one staff injury was minor.

The Bureau of State Audits review of Wasco State Prison’s response to the power outage was requested by Assemblyman Dean Florez, D-Shafter.

Immediately after the power outage, CDC and Wasco State Prison staff began their own review of this matter and began the process of developing new policies and procedures to ensure a seamless response to any future power outage incidents.

Additionally, a subsequent power outage in the final days of the state audit caused by a lightning strike resulted in a completely appropriate response by all Wasco State Prison backup systems and staff.

In addition, the audit found one instance in which an inmate gained access to confidential information. Wasco State Prison’s response to this finding was to take corrective action with supervisors and managers to address any oversights in their supervision, and then to develop policies and procedures governing the safeguard of confidential information.