For emergency alerts from DRCI

by: HOLLY M. GILL - Department of Corrections officials met with Madras and Jefferson County officials May 28, regarding the recent escape of a prisoner from DRCI, and the upgrades to the prison's notification system.The Department of Corrections reassured Madras and Jefferson County officials that their emergency notification system is now up and running at a city/county meeting May 28.

Richard "Zack" Ackley, acting superintendent of Deer Ridge Correctional Institution, said that after an inmate escaped from the prison late on May 5, they discovered that their system for alerting the public was not working properly. The original company with which they had set up the notification system had gone out of business.

During the seven years since the minimum-security prison had opened, the system had gone through "two or three cycles of upgrades," according to Kevin Hormann, assistant superintendent of security. When the company went out of business, they had to move about 4,500 phone numbers to the new system, and the data "just didn't translate."

"We have routinely used the system in tests," he said, noting that he had received several calls on his cell phone and home phone number, and assumed that the system was still working.

Ackley said that they recognize that they should have known that the system wasn't functioning as planned.

"Now, we have an audit in place to check twice a year," he said. "We want to reassure all of you, as well as the community, that we won't let that happen again."

City Councilor Tom Brown suggested that the message should have a local phone number, rather than a 1-800 number, so that people will listen to their messages if they're away from their phones, or the prison could use a reverse 911 system.

Hormann explained that the system with which the prison is contracting uses a 1-800 number, and DRCI doesn't currently have the capability of using the reverse 911 system.

The deputy director of the Department of Corrections, Mitch Morrow, of Salem, advised staff to do a side-by-side comparison of potential systems, and take the results back to city and county officials.

"We'll learn from this experience," he said. "We'll check all these systems. We're taking it very seriously."

Asked about when DRCI might open its medium-security prison, Morrow pointed out that the prison population across the state is flat. "It doesn't look like the opening of the medium is on the horizon," he said.

The meeting concluded with prison officials agreeing to contact the sheriff and city police chief with the results of their comparisons.

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